Why on earth are we suddenly debating whether Donald Trump won the election, which he clearly did fair and square?
You can blame Jill Stein, Hillary Clinton's lawyers, and Trump himself.
This is just surreal, how a nuisance filing by a fringe candidate has suddenly become a massive media controversy in which nobody looks particularly good.
The whole notion of a recount is absurd. Clinton may have won the popular vote, but this isn’t the hanging-chads environment of 2000. Trump has more than 300 electoral votes, and he will be the next president.
So along comes Stein, the Green Party candidate, and as a fundraising and attention-getting device, she successfully pushes for a recount in Wisconsin. This is, of course, ludicrous, since Trump won the state by more than 20,000 votes. (Stein is trying now in Pennsylvania, which Trump won by 70,000 votes.)
Clinton, who conceded on Election Night, had not asked for a recount. But her lawyer, while conceding the campaign has no “actionable evidence” of hacking or other illegalities, agrees to cooperate.
And that ticks off Trump, who has clearly been smarting over the fact that Clinton leads by 2 million in the popular vote. Even though that doesn’t amount to squat, since he’s got more than 300 electoral votes.
First Trump unleashed a tweetstorm at his Democratic opponent, quoting her as saying during the campaign that it would be “horrifying” if Trump didn’t accept the election outcome.
Then came this: “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”
That created a firestorm. The Trump transition team offered no evidence of such widespread fraud. Communications director Jason Miller pointed to a two-year-old Washington Post blog by two academics saying 14 percent of non-citizens were registered to vote in past elections. (The piece also said “most non-citizens do not register, let alone vote.”) But that doesn’t prove anything about 2016. There are usually isolated episodes of voter fraud or chicanery, but not “millions of people.”
Politico: “Trump's Baseless Assertions of Voter Fraud Called 'Stunning'”:
“Donald Trump on Sunday used the platform of the presidency to peddle a fringe conspiracy theory to justify his loss of the popular vote, claiming without evidence that millions of people voted illegally Nov. 8.”
New York Times: “Trump Claims, With No Evidence, That ‘Millions of People’ Voted Illegally”:
“President-elect Donald J. Trump said on Sunday that he had fallen short in the popular vote in the general election only because millions of people had voted illegally, leveling the baseless claim as part of a daylong storm of Twitter posts voicing anger about a three-state recount push.”
“Washington Post: “Trump pushes conspiracy theory that ‘millions’ voted illegally for Clinton”:
“President-elect Donald Trump spent Sunday ridiculing Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign for joining a recount effort in Wisconsin, ending his day on Twitter by parroting a widely debunked conspiracy theory that her campaign benefited from massive voter fraud.”
The controversy prompted a Clinton campaign spokeswoman to say: “Winning the electoral college won him the presidency, so Trump's excuses on why he lost the popular vote by millions are just small and sad.” And Snopes debunks it here.
And Trump wasn’t done. Last night he launched a Twitter assault against CNN and its reporter Jeff Zeleny, retweeting attacks like this: “What PROOF do u have DonaldTrump did not suffer from millions of FRAUD votes? Journalist? Do your job! @CNN"
In effect, he is now asking journalists to prove a negative, that he wasn’t defrauded in the election.
I have no idea why Trump went there. He’s in the process of putting together a government. He knows everyone would campaign differently if we picked presidents by popular vote. He knows that the recount is going to fizzle. Why give the media ammunition to again charge that he’s making claims without evidence?
It feels like we’ve been thrust back into the middle of the campaign. But it’s a make-believe campaign. The real one ended on Nov. 8.
Meanwhile, the press has descended on Kellyanne Conway, the former campaign manager turned top transition adviser. She’s been going off on Mitt Romney in the secretary of State sweepstakes, first on Twitter and then on a couple of Sunday shows.
The gist of Conway’s argument, and she speaks for a strong faction within Trump world, is that Romney went out of his way to attack her guy during the campaign as a fraud and a con man, and shouldn’t be rewarded with the Cabinet’s top prize. That’s usually the way politics works. In fairness to Mitt, he didn’t lobby for the job—Trump had Mike Pence call him, and the president-elect and Romney are scheduled for a second sitdown today at Trump Tower.
Is it unusual for advisers to be having this debate in public? Sure is. Conway has made clear that she has pressed her view privately with Trump as well.
But MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough went off on her, accusing her of going rogue and pushing her own agenda, and saying that based on his own transition sources, Trump is “furious” with her.
Conway sent a text, which Morning Joe read on the air, saying she can have whatever job she wants, inside or outside the administration, and that Scarborough’s account “is all false. And it is sexist.”
Conway told the New York Times that she and Trump are fine: “When he’s upset with someone, they know it.” And in a statement, Trump called her a “tremendous asset”: “Kellyanne came to me and asked whether or not she could go public with her thoughts on the matter. I encouraged her to do so. Most importantly she fully acknowledged there is only one person that makes the decision.”
I’ll just say this: President-Elect Trump could shut off this debate in a heartbeat by saying he’s no longer considering Romney or by naming Rudy Giuliani or David Petraeus or John Kelly or someone else. He has obviously decided that he wants the discussion to play out in public.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.