Can Donald Trump Really Be This Clueless About How Elections Work?
Donald Trump’s angry, rambling, incoherent, and boastful Election Night speech presents a familiar puzzle: Does the president sincerely believe the weird stuff he says, or is it all part of a clever populist strategy? The distinction should matter to journalists, because it is the difference between a lie and a delusion. By “delusion” I do not mean to imply a psychiatric diagnosis—just the common human tendency to believe things that are not true when they fit one’s self-image or preexisting opinions.
While everyone is prone to that temptation, Trump rarely seems to resist it. If a state’s early election returns show him behind but he eventually wins, as happened in Florida last night, it is only because it took time for voters’ love of him to be revealed. But when Trump has an initial advantage that disappears as more votes are counted, he concludes that “a fraud” has been perpetrated on “the American public.”
For Trump, the ordinary ups and downs of Election Night are immediate cause for suspicion, except when they favor him. “We were getting ready for a big celebration, we were winning everything, and all of a sudden, it was just called off,” he said. “We won states. And all of a sudden I said, ‘What happened to the election? It’s off.’ And we have all these announcers saying, ‘What happened?’ And then they said, ‘Oh.'”
Trump’s explanation: “You know what happened? They knew they couldn’t win, so they said, ‘Let’s go to court.'”
As is frequently the case with Trump, it is not exactly clear what he was talking about. But it seems he was referring to Democrats’ support for expanding mail-in voting, which Trump has been attacking as inherently fraudulent (except in Florida!) for months. “I’ve been saying this from the day I heard they were going to send out tens of millions of ballots,” he said. “Either they were going to win, or if they didn’t win, they’ll take us to court.”
When Democrats challenge voting procedures, in Trump’s view, they are trying to “disenfranchise” his supporters. When Republicans challenge voting procedures, they are trying to protect the integrity of the electoral process, even when they
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