It’s time to Break It Down!
Back on May 11, 2016, more than fiver months ago, I penned a post entitled, “Fact Free Universe: The Quintessential Trump Advantage” (https://thesphinxofcharlotte.com/2016/05/11/fact-free-universe-the-quintessential-trump-advantage/). In that post, I elaborated on the degree to which Mr. Trump, in framing his campaign’s narrative, was not constrained by even a fleeting appearance of truth. Neither his surrogates nor his supporters seem the least bit interesting in establishing any foundation for veracity or fact-based accountability when it comes to defending and repeating ad nauseam the often-groundless assertions uttered by their candidate. It is as if he operates in what I have deemed, a fact free universe.
To complicate matters further, the media has largely taken the position that it is utterly incapable of taking Mr. Trump to task for his every deviation from the truth table. Even one of the journalists responsible for moderating the Presidential Debates wants no part of monitoring Mr. Trump’s aversion to facts. Fox News’ Chris Wallace, who will moderate the final debate of the 2016 Campaign tonight has said, “I do not believe it’s my job to be a truth squad. It’s up to the other (Nominee) to catch them” if they lie during the debate.
In deed, that may sound reasonable on it’s face. The moderator isn’t running for President, after all. However, the reality is, when one is dealing with Mr. Trump that can be problematic. Several organizations have concluded Mr. Trump is a veritable voracious arbiter of fact free assertion. At some point, it is conceivable that if Mrs. Clinton is tasked with fact checking every Trump truth violation, she will be left with little or no time to answer the moderator’s questions or to promote her own policy prescriptions. That is not a desirable outcome, neither should it be an acceptable one.
As I noted in the May 11th post, Joseph Heller asserted “In his 1984 tragicomedic novel God Knows, “The truth is whatever people will believe is the truth. Don’t you know history?” In that light, Mr. Wallace is on point, and Trump is simply channeling Machiavelli, and doubling down on Malcolm X, in a, “The end justifies the means,’ and a “By any means necessary” kind of way, respectively. But. Lest you missed my previously referenced blog, or in case you have forgotten one of its essential points, reflect upon this passage from that post:
“In the March 13 Edition of Politico, in an article entitled Trump’s Week of Errors, Exaggerations and Flat-out Falsehoods, the magazine makes the case that Donald Trump is a veritable truth avoidance machine. This was a month ago, and several weeks before Trump was elevated through a series of convincing Primary wins to the GOP’s presumptive nominee status. The magazine in effect fact-checked a week’s worth of Mr. Trump’s verbal stump speech stylings. This amounted to 4.6 hours of speeches and press conferences from North Carolina to Missouri.
In summary, what they found was more than five dozen statements deemed mischaracterizations, exaggerations, or just flat out false. These were deemed material that would not have made it into one of the magazine’s stories, or in some instances would have lead to scuttling a story altogether. According to Politico, it amounted on average to roughly one misstatement every five minutes.”
Let Hillary fact check Trump? Good luck with that! Of course I can understand why that would be among Team Trump’s fondest desires.
So much for the preamble, let’s move on to the meat of today’s topic. As we enter the final 20 days before the 2016 Presidential election, the elusive set of values and data that the pundits, analysts, and candidates refer to as the “fundamentals of the campaign” are settling fast. As they do so, Mrs. Clinton holds a small lead in most national polls, a lead by varying amounts in most of the swing sates, and a substantial lead among several key demographics, including:
- Women overall
- College educated white women
- College educated whites overall (a group that Democrats have never have won in exit polls dating to 1976)
- Democratic-leaning Independents (who supported Bernie Sanders)
- Registered voters
- Likely voters
At the same time his opponent is solidifying critical support among those important segments cited above, Mr. Trump is amassing an ominous collection of unfavorables. Recent polling shows:
- 79 percent of Americans polled say he doesn’t show enough respect for people he disagrees with
- 70 percent express anxiety about a Trump presidency
- 67 percent think he lacks the personality and temperament it takes to serve effectively
- 64 percent doubt his understanding of world affairs
- 63 percent see him unfavorably overall
- 62 percent say he’s not honest and trustworthy
- 61 percent think he’s unqualified for office
- 60 percent think he’s biased against women and minorities
Furthermore, on his handling of his dispute with the parents of fallen Muslim U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan: 73 percent disapprove, including 59 percent of Republicans. All this was underscored by the revelation that Mr. Trump, who refuses to reveal his taxes, took a nearly billion dollar write-off on his taxes, likely went nearly two decades without paying federal taxes, and was accused by several women of sexual assault.
As he is someone Mr. Trump would cast into the rigged media category, I doubt the candidate follows his work, but based on yesterday’s data, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight forecast put the chance of winning the Presidency at the following:
- Hillary Clinton – 87.4%
- Donald Trump – 12.6%
One might say the rudiments of a trend are developing. With these elements as a backdrop, Team Trump has conceived, and he especially, is promoting a catchall explanation for what in his own mind, and no doubt the minds of those who support him, is the unthinkable…the fact that he could possibly awake the morning of November 9th as something other than a winner. I used that awkward phraseology in honor Mr. Trump’s personal conviction that he never loses…or fails.
Nevertheless, for several days now, Mr. Trump has flatly, vociferously, and consistently insisted that the election is rigged. He claims that there is widespread voter fraud, and he maintains that the media is complicit in carrying out what would be (if it were in fact so) a patently illegal scheme. Monday he tweeted, “Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day. Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naïve!”
His fellow New Yorker, surrogate, and former New York City Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, has taken to the airways to parrot Mr. Trump’s paranoia. Sunday, on CNN’s State of the Union with Jake Tapper, Mr. Giuliani said, “Dead people generally vote for Democrats instead of Republicans. If you want me to tell you that I think the elections of Philadelphia and Chicago are going to be fair, I would have to be a moron to say that.” My unscientific guess is there are those who believe he is a moron, based in part on what he said above.
While I am in no position to speak for them, I have the impression that many self-respecting Republicans are flatly embarrassed by this ridiculous, and more important, unsubstantiated claim. It is nonsense such as this that poses an existential threat to our Democracy. Mr. Trump actually seems to be inviting his gaggle of avid supporters to activate and revolt, should he lose, which appears more of an inevitability each passing day.
Fortunately, a cross-section of individuals who have claimed the GOP for longer than the current political cycle has come to the defense of the functional operation of the American electoral system, both historically, and contemporarily. A veritable Who’s Who of GOP elected officials has dismissed the idea as utter tomfoolery. Four of the notables who have distanced themselves from this absurdity include:
- Jon Husted, Ohio Secretary of State – It’s important to note, Ohio is not only a swing state, but a state no Republican has ever won the Presidency without winning. Mr. Husted says, “I can reassure Donald Trump, I am in charge of elections in Ohio and they are not going to be rigged. I’ll make sure of that.” He went on to say, “It’s bipartisan, it’s transparent, and there’s just no justification for concern about widespread voter fraud.”
- Marco Rubio, Florida’s Junior U.S. Senator – Florida is the poster child for concerns about voting tabulation, dating back to the 2000 Election of George W. Bush, when he ostensibly won the election by beating Al Gore in the state of Florida by 537 votes. Senator Rubio summarily rejected Mr. Trump’s claim, saying, “This election is not being rigged. We have 67 counties in this state, each of which conduct their own elections. I promise you there is not a 67-county conspiracy to rig this election.”
- Paul Ryan, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives – The nation’s top elected Republican House Member has disavowed the Nominee’s claim. Speaker Ryan said in a statement released by his spokesperson, AshLee Strong, “Our democracy relies on confidence in election results, and the speaker is fully confident the states will carry out this election with integrity.”
- Mike Pence, Candidate for Vice President of the U.S. – Mr. Pence, the Nominee’s own running mate, parsed words with, and pushed back on the President’s Press Secretary, Josh Earnest. After Earnest said Mr. Pence wasn’t concerned about voter fraud, Pence haggled, but still managed to land on a spot dismissing the issue. He ultimately said, yesterday, “I’ve got a news flash for you, the President’s press secretary doesn’t speak for me. They’re not worried about it (speaking of voter fraud) because they are denying it’s happening, I’m not worried about it because I know the American people are not going to let it happen.” While his comments seethed with an undertone of inviting Trump supporters to engage in acts of voter intimidation, in the final analysis, he still refused to give credence to this travesty of a deception.
While the counter narrative emanating from GOP mavens, which represents a break with the Nominee, may be somewhat surprising, it comes as no surprise at all President Obama offered direct and terse pushback to the notion of voter fraud upending the election. During a news conference in the Rose Garden yesterday, President Obama said Donald J. Trump should:
- “Stop whining and go try to make his case to get votes.”
POTUS, noting that though the history of America’s democracy is filled with stories of spirited, if not contentious contests, when they are over, regardless of the victor’s Party, the loser congratulates the winner, reaffirms our democracy, and moves forward. He added:
- “That’s how democracy survives.”
Let me put a bow on this by citing contemporary research on the subject. Justin Levitt, Professor at the Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, and an expert in constitutional law and the law of democracy, with a particular focus on election administration and redistricting, conducted a study on voter fraud. Levitt tracked both allegations and prosecutions for voter fraud from 2000 to 2014. He looked at incidents that included general, primary, special and municipal elections. More than 1 billion ballots were cast in that period in general and primary elections alone. Of those billion + ballots, he found 31 incidents, anywhere in the country, that rose to the level of “possibly” having been voter fraud.
Some of the cases have been thoroughly investigated, and a few resulted in prosecutions. A number of the others have not. Professor Levitt opines that some will be debunked due to a problem with matching people from one computer to another, a data entry error, confusion between two people with the same name, or someone signing in on the wrong line of a pollbook.
Voter fraud is illegal and should be taken seriously. In fact, the record seems to indicate that by every reasonable assessment, that is exactly what is happening. Thirty-one instances out of one billion ballots cast over nearly a decade and a half would suggest all due care is applied in our running election system, and there is no viability to Mr. Trump’s claim of election fraud. So here we are, less than 3 weeks until the election, and the integrity of the election system is under assault. Fortunately, it would seem, this is a true case of false alarm for the nation. Perhaps, though, the concern is valid for a campaign that has for sometime chosen to operate in its own fact free universe. To that end, as I conclude, this is what we know…”Trump Spin: Democrats Are Trying to Steal the Election Through Voter Fraud!”
I’m done; holla back!
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