David Muir conducted the first sit-down interview with President Trump since he moved into the Oval Office. It was unbelievable. That’s not hyperbole. It was literally unbelievable that a sitting president would be so obsessed with his own popularity.
Trump interview with ABC News
Trump hasn’t had a great first week in office. His administration has been leaking like a sieve, with the New York Times and the Washington Post both posting anonymous insider-sourced stories about the goings on in the West Wing. These accounts talk of a man who obsesses over poll numbers, TV ratings, and benchmarks. Someone who was unhappy with the media and surprised they didn’t treat him nicer since he was sworn in. And while most presidents do enjoy a honeymoon once in office, Trump almost assuredly squandered his over fights with the press corps about insignificant things like the size of the crowd at his inauguration.
All In All We’re Just Another Brick in the Wall.
Muir did his best to keep the president on topic and focused, which wasn’t easy because Trump tends to take off on flights of fancy. Trump signed an executive order calling for the construction of a southern border wall for the United States. Now, you may recall that during the campaign one of Trump’s favorite call-and-response bits was to get the crowd yelling about the wall. “Who’s going to pay for it?” “MEXICO!!!!” But the EO has asked Congress to appropriate $14 billion to begin planning and construction.
Trump assured Muir not only that Mexico would reimburse us for the wall, but that he never said Mexico would pay for it up front:
DAVID MUIR: What are you gonna say to some of your supporters who might say, “Wait a minute, I thought Mexico was going to pay for this right at the start.”
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, I’d say very simply that they are going to pay for it. I never said they’re gonna pay from the start. I said Mexico will pay for the wall.
Trump seems to think it’s *our* fault if we didn’t interpret “Mexico is going to pay for the wall” as “Mexico is going to reimburse us for the wall through a complex payment structure that we will decide on later.” Admittedly, it isn’t easy to get a crowd to chant that.
But there are a couple of things to unpack there. The EO Trump signed comes at an unfortunate time — the first day of talks between top officials in Mexico and the US ahead of a planned visit from President Enrique Peña Nieto to the White House. Peña Nieto responded with a video message denying that Mexico will pay for the wall. “It is evident that we have differences with the new United States government on some issues, such as a wall that Mexico absolutely will not pay for,” Peña Nieto said. “At no time will we accept anything that goes against our dignity as a country and our dignity as Mexicans.”
Trump’s response was, “He has to say that” but they’re gonna pay for it. They just don’t know it, yet, saying the reimbursement will be part of a complicated “transaction” with Mexico, that will result in them paying “100 percent” for the wall and it will cost us “nothing.” Additionally, though the Mexican president claims the wall would be an affront to their dignity, Trump says it will be “good for Mexico.” Peña Nieto said he is considering canceling his US trip. To which Trump replied through a tweet that if Mexico didn’t want to pay for the wall he *should* cancel the trip.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan confirmed that Congress is willing to put up $14 billion for this project, saying, “We’re going to pay for the wall and front the money.” This is troubling since that’s nearly twice as much money as President Obama requested for the EPA in his last budget and was told by congress it was unaffordable. We can’t spend $8 billion to protect our environment, but we can front $14 billion on what is essentially a boondoggle? Unbelievable.
It’s a Major Award!
Muir brought up another executive order President Trump signed calling for a “major investigation” into voter fraud. Let me just say as an aside that normally presidents and government officials don’t use words like “major investigation.” These are left to pundits and media hacks. When the president says “major investigation” I’m left with questions such as what constitutes “major?” Is there a threshold in terms of manpower? Agencies involved? Scope? Or is this just our superlative and hyperbolic president trying to reassure us of his seriousness?
There are no details about this investigation because an EO doesn’t cover things like the budget or a timeline. But with a $14 billion wall to pay for, one wonders if we can afford vanity projects like this. And make no mistake, this is all in service of Trump’s ego. He will not move on from the fact that he won the election, but lost the vote by nearly 3 million.
Trump held a meeting with congressional leaders in which he told them he would have won the popular vote but for three to five million illegal votes cast. The press corp asked Sean Spicer if the president really believes that, then why aren’t we investigating it.
Boom. “Major investigation.” Muir asked him about the meeting and Trump spun off into how he won the election, how he could have won the popular vote easily if that was his goal, but it wasn’t. He talked about how many states he went to. How he didn’t campaign in New York or California and how voter fraud in this country is rampant and pervasive. Muir pressed him for evidence of his claims and we got one of the more interesting exchanges:
DAVID MUIR: What you have presented so far has been debunked. It’s been called false.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: No, it hasn’t. Take a look at the Pew reports.
DAVID MUIR: I called the author of the Pew report last night. And he told me that they found no evidence of voter fraud.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Really? Then why did he write the report?
DAVID MUIR: He said no evidence of voter fraud.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Excuse me, then why did he write the report? According to Pew report, then he’s — then he’s groveling again. You know, I always talk about the reporters that grovel when they wanna write something that you wanna hear but not necessarily millions of people wanna hear or have to hear.
The Pew Report on the States, published in 2012, was headed up by David Becker. Becker (who is not a reporter, by the way) has repeatedly said the conclusions of the report were misconstrued and that they found no evidence of voter fraud. He has consistently said this. The problem is that Trump hasn’t read the report. He’s been told about it, most likely by Kris Kobach, secretary of state for Kansas who has a real hard-on for making it harder to vote. Kobach likes to wave that report around and say it says what it doesn’t say (generally by citing the anomalies in the data and extrapolating from them. Becker said they rechecked the anomalies and can account for most of them).
But if we look at what Trump believes is happening, he’s describing problems with voter registration and voter rolls, not actual voter fraud.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: In fact, I heard one of the other side, they were saying it’s not 3 to 5. It’s not 3 to 5. I said, “Well, Mr. Trump is talking about registration, tell–” He said, “You know we don’t wanna talk about registration.” They don’t wanna talk about registration.
You have people that are registered who are dead, who are illegals, who are in two states. You have people registered in two states. They’re registered in a New York and New Jersey. They vote twice. There are millions of votes, in my opinion.
The reason “they don’t want to talk about registration” is because registration isn’t voter fraud. It isn’t unusual for people to be registered in two states because when you move from one state to another, you don’t unregister from your old state. You just register with your new one. So your name may remain on the voter rolls in your old home for years before they get around to removing it. That’s not nefarious. The problem is that Trump has convinced himself that people regularly cross state lines to vote twice.
Interestingly enough, Trump’s daughter Tiffany, White House advisor and Nazi sympathizer Steve Bannon, and Treasury Secretary-Designate Steve Mnuchin are all registered to vote in two different states. Bannon, by the way, registered to vote at a Florida address belonging to someone else (Bannon never lived there).
But to Trump, the accuracy of his claims takes a back seat to the popularity of his claims as evidenced by this exchange:
DAVID MUIR: House Speaker Paul Ryan has said, “I have seen no evidence. I have made this very, very clear.” Senator Lindsey Graham saying, “It’s the most inappropriate thing for a president to say without proof. He seems obsessed with the idea that he could not have possibly lost the popular vote without cheating and fraud.” I wanna ask you about something bigger here. Does it matter more now …
PRESIDENT TRUMP: There’s nothing bigger. There’s nothing bigger.
DAVID MUIR: But it is important because …
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Let me just tell you, you know what’s important, millions of people agree with me when I say that if you would’ve looked on one of the other networks and all of the people that were calling in they’re saying, “We agree with Mr. Trump. We agree.” They’re very smart people.
No, Mr. President, that’s not important. Being popular on FOX doesn’t make you right. Not that “millions of people” called into FOX to say they agreed with you. This is a running theme with Trump. He puts more stock in anecdotal evidence than he does in hard data. If someone tells him a story that he likes (especially if a celebrity does it) then it is as good as gold. For example, at the meeting with the congressional leaders, Trump related a story told to him by his “friend” professional golfer Bernhard Langer.
According to the people there, Trump said Langer tried to vote in Florida and was told he wouldn’t be allowed to. He said that there were people in line in front and behind him “that looked like they shouldn’t be allowed to vote” but they were given ballots. They said Trump threw out the names of some South American countries where he speculated these people came from.
Now think about that for a second. That’s a racist story. In Trump’s mind, it was an outrage that brown people were allowed to vote and a white man wasn’t. But this is Florida, which has a large Hispanic citizenry. And Langer isn’t a citizen! He’s from Germany. And the story didn’t happen to him, but to a friend of his.
A senior White House staff member, who was not at the Monday reception but has heard Mr. Trump tell the story, said Mr. Langer saw Mr. Trump in Florida during the Thanksgiving break and told him the story of a friend of Mr. Langer’s who had been blocked from voting. …
The story, the aide added, had made a big impression on Mr. Trump.
So Trump bases his convictions on a second-hand account that he misunderstood and cites as evidence a second-hand account of a report he hasn’t read that doesn’t say what he thinks. But that doesn’t matter as much as his impression that “millions” of people agree with him. That’s nuts. Our president is nuts.
Edit: It turns out that even that story was wrong.
To sum up: The author of the Pew Report says there was no evidence of voter fraud. The Speaker of the House said there was no evidence of voter fraud. Trump’s own attorneys who were fighting the Jill Stein-led recount said “all available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud.”
But if you want to ignore all that, before you go spending money on a “major investigation,” shouldn’t you look at the results of the previous investigation of voter fraud? The Bush Administration did a five-year study and found “virtually no evidence” of voter fraud. Justin Levitt of Loyola Law School conducted one of the most comprehensive multi-year studies of voter fraud and found 31 instances of voter impersonation out of a billion ballots cast. That’s 1 in 32 million votes.
Iowa did their own two-year study in 2012 and found no evidence of significant voter fraud (27 instances, mostly related to misunderstandings about voting regulations). The Washington Post did a review of cases in the 2016 elections and found four out of 136 million (two of those were Trump voters trying to vote twice, even though Trump said in his interview that “none of ’em come to me. None of ’em come to me. They would all be for the other side. None of ’em come to me.”)
Dartmouth did a study of voting patterns in the 2016 elections looking for the fraud Trump says happened. “Our research focuses on non-citizen populations, deceased individuals, the timing of results, and voting technology, and we do not uncover any evidence consistent with Trump’s assertions about widespread voter fraud.
The National Association of Secretaries of State released a statement saying they were unaware of any evidence supporting Trump’s claims. Kris Kobach of Kansas did his own review of 84 million votes cast in 22 states looking for duplicate registrations. He found 14. Wisconsin prosecuted 20 felons who voted illegally in 2008.
What no one asks Trump and what would be harder to explain away is that why would Democrats organize five million illegal votes and not put them in states where Clinton needed to win the electoral college? And why didn’t they also vote for down-ballot Democrats to help take back the Senate or the House?
It doesn’t make sense. But for Trump, it doesn’t have to make sense. A professional golfer told him a story and “millions” of people agree with him. So let’s have a “major investigation.” Sean Spicer said the investigation will concentrate on “bigger states” and “Urban areas.” Trump wants to look for fraud in places where he lost. That’s not an ethical use of the president’s power.
The Standing O
From a personal standpoint, one of the most telling sections of the ABC interview was when Trump spoke about his speech at the CIA. Nothing illustrates the delusion behind his tired, old eyes quite like his insistence that he was not only warmly welcomed, but that he was given a huge standing ovation.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: That speech was a home run. That speech, if you look at Fox, OK, I’ll mention you — we see what Fox said. They said it was one of the great speeches. They showed the people applauding and screaming and — and they were all CIA. There was — somebody was asking Sean — “Well, were they Trump people that were put–” we don’t have Trump people. They were CIA people.
Not according to news reports. CBS said Trump and Pence brought 40 people with them to the meeting which took up the front two rows. But beyond that, “screaming?” Why does Trump say these CIA officers were “screaming” for him? He’s truly the hyperbolic president.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I got a standing ovation. In fact, they said it was the biggest standing ovation since Peyton Manning had won the Super Bowl and they said it was equal. I got a standing ovation. It lasted for a long period of time. What you do is take — take out your tape — you probably ran it live. I know when I do good speeches. I know when I do bad speeches. That speech was a total home run. They loved it. People loved it. They loved it. They gave me a standing ovation for a long period of time. They never even sat down, most of them, during the speech. There was love in the room. You and other networks covered it very inaccurately. I hate to say this to you and you probably won’t put it on but turn on Fox and see how it was covered. And see how people respond to that speech.
Okay, couple of things.
1) What the hell are you talking about with the Peyton Manning SuperBowl ovation? How could a room with fewer than 400 people in it, give “the biggest standing ovation since Peyton Manning had won the Super Bowl and they said it was equal.” What? What does that even mean? Who said that?
2) If they never sat down during the speech, then they didn’t give you a standing ovation at the end.
3) Why does this matter so much to you? Why do you insist on repeating this obvious lie over and over? Is your ego so fragile that you have to waste your time and energy dying on *this* hill?
Our president is unbelievable and I mean that in the most literal sense of the word. It is impossible to believe him because he talks in hyperbole. He lies for no reason. He lies like breathing. He’s unbelievable.