The Corner

Elections

The ‘Illegitimacy’ of the 2016 Election

President Donald Trump speaks to the news media in Washington, D.C., January 14, 2019. (Leah Millis/REUTERS)

If you can remember all the way back to 2016, around October or November, you’ll recall that all the best people were pronouncing with great sobriety that the great test of patriotism and citizenship of the hour would be whether Donald Trump and his partisans would “accept the outcome” of the presidential election. Everyone from the New York Times to Epic Rap Battles of History was on that case. Trump joked that he’d accept the outcome if he won.

And then he won.

Since then, rejecting the outcome of the 2016 election has been the great test of patriotism and citizenship of the day. The Democrats did not declare themselves the loyal opposition — they declared themselves “the Resistance,” a martial appellation for an ersatz civil war. (Anybody remember when Sarah Palin’s graphic artist’s crosshairs constituted morally out-of-bounds rhetoric?) Fortunately, the American Left and its media cheerleaders are entirely immune to irony. Lucky them.

Michael Tomasky, writing in the New York Times on Sunday, offers a hilariously question-begging analysis: Would Democrats be better off impeaching Trump or waiting until 2020 and his inevitable electoral defeat? Tomasky prefers the ballot box, because — not that he’s a cynical and narrow partisan or anything like that!– “it will do more long-term damage to the Republican party.” Well, there’s that.

But the case for impeachment, he writes, is strong, too: “If you can’t impeach a president whose very election is found to have been illegitimate, then whom can you impeach?”

But there is not really any evidence that Trump’s election has been “found to have been illegitimate.” Even if the worst that Trump et al. are accused of should be found to be true, it would take a great leap to conclude that that would render the 2016 election illegitimate. If our standard for illegitimacy is a foreign-funded effort to influence the outcome of a U.S. presidential election, then the 1996 presidential election was illegitimate — and, very likely, so was practically every other election in modern history. Colluding with a foreign government in the way that has been alleged would be a serious offense and one that would deserve the harshest punishment. But the election was the election; the votes were cast and counted, and there has been no credible allegation that the election itself was interfered with in any way beyond what is sometimes described as “black P.R.”

The powerful temptation to engage in such shenanigans is kind of mystifying, if you know anything about how voters actually make decisions. But it seems to be irresistible. Consider the weird Democratic “false flag” operation — that’s the New York Times’s description, not Alex Jones’s — against Roy Moore. My recollection of that race is that there was plenty to detest about Roy Moore without reinventing him as, of all things, a neo-prohibitionist. It’s as though the shenanigan itself, and not any political juice to be had from it, is the payoff.

As usual, the Democrats are not thinking very carefully about the precedent they are creating. As usual, that’s going to work out badly for them.

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