The Latest Attempt to Spin 'Rigged'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Kellyanne Conway strains her talents to justify her boss’s preemptive refusal to accept Election Day results by comparing it to the 2000 contested recount in Florida and somehow putting the blame on Gore:

A reader, Don, digs in:

Kellyanne Conway deliberately conflates challenges to a voting count, resulting in statutorily sanctioned recount processes, with Trump’s allegations of fraud and “rigging.” The former is a legitimate process to ensure that the votes have been counted accurately. No one disputes that, if the Electoral College result turns on a very close vote in one state (a la Florida in 2000), a recount would be legitimate and appropriate. Conway has set up a straw man here.

Let’s bear in mind that no one would even be having this conversation if it weren’t for two facts: (1) Trump is claiming, without any evidence whatsoever, that the Democrats—apparently in conjunction with the biased media—are somehow “rigging” the election; and (2) Trump has a history of being an immature whiner, a terrible loser, a bad sport, making similar allegations in other situations, including his claim that his television show was “screwed” out of Emmy Awards.

He is truly a pathetic creature, and all of this would be funny if there wasn’t a real danger that he could actually win the election or, if he loses, irresponsibly set off a wave of violence (in the worst case scenario) and a loss of confidence in our electoral processes by a significant portion of the population (in the best case scenario).

Speaking of a “history of being an immature whiner, a terrible loser, a bad sport,” check out Trump’s tweet-storm right after the 2012 election (when Obama decisively beat Romney 332 to 206 in the Electoral College and 51 percent to 47 percent in the popular vote—a margin of nearly five million votes—with zero claims of voting irregularities by the Romney campaign or any other legitimate party):

That’s an array of execrable stuff, but the line, “The phoney [sic] electoral college made a laughing stock out of our nation” reminds me of the $100,000 full-page ad Trump bought all the way back in 1987 criticizing U.S. foreign policy—an open letter to the American people that ended with, “Let’s not let our great country be laughed at anymore.” The only people laughing last night in the debate hall were the audience members reacting to Trump saying, “Nobody has more respect for women than I do”:

Here’s another reader, Matt, on the Florida recount conflation that Conway is pushing (though if you disagree with Matt or our previous reader and think Conway has a point, please drop us a note and we’ll air it):

I’ve never written in before, but I would like to see the point made that Al Gore did NOT mount an election challenge to the 2000 election. In fact George W. Bush mounted the challenge, which is why he was the plaintiff. There is a reason that the case is titled Bush v. Gore and not the other way around. Simply put, Bush sought to intervene in the counting of ballots, not Gore. It’s offensive to me, as an attorney, to see this basic fact disputed. It’s in the caption of the case!  Maybe it’s a minor point, but it again shows the utter dishonesty of the Trump campaign. Gore sought to have votes counted through the Florida courts. He was successful. Bush instituted federal litigation to prevent those votes from being counted. Bush was successful in federal court. Bush was the plaintiff in federal court—Bush brought the action in federal court—which is to say he challenged the results. This is undisputed.

Speaking of Bushes, here’s a letter from the elder one to Bill Clinton after losing the 1992 election. Just marvel at the contrast between these noble words and Trump’s rancid rhetoric:

Dear Bill,

When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.

I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.

There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.

You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.

Your success is now our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.

Good luck,

Meanwhile, let’s check in on the latest from the current head of the GOP:

Update from a reader in Sacramento, Bruce:

I wonder if we can't examine something a little more closely regarding a comment by reader Matt on Trump surrogates conflating the candidates “rigging” claims with the 2000 election. Matt makes the compelling argument that it was George W. Bush, not Al Gore, who challenged the election results, which is why Bush was the plaintiff, as in the entitled case Bush v. Gore.

An attorney I know argues otherwise—that Gore and Lieberman were the original plaintiffs. He explains that the original case as described in the first-level appeal as: Judgment of Circuit Court, in and for Leon County, N. Sanders Sauls, Judge, Case No. CV 00-2808 - Certified by the District Court of Appeal, First District, Case No. 1D00-4745. The original plaintiffs were Gore and Lieberman. It went from the Circuit Court to the District Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, and then to the Florida Supreme Court. The Florida Supreme Court was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The position of Bush first there is simply a reflection of the way the U.S. Supreme Court titles cases. The whole situation involved multiple actions and is complex. In the final U.S. Supreme Court docket (531 U.S. 98) Bush and Cheney were the petitioners and that is why they are first in the title. This was the petition for writ of certiorari from the Florida Supreme Court judgment rendered on December 8, 2000.

I realize this starts to get deep into the weeds of legalese but perhaps Matt—or someone—can comment on this. Let me be clear: I don’t raise this question in defense of Donald Trump or the claims of his acolytes. My only interest here is in clarity and accuracy.

Frankly, the bounds of propriety and good taste prohibit me from resorting to an appropriate descriptor of Mr. Trump fitting of my New York City upbringing. His claim of large-scale voter fraud is both irresponsible and preposterous. Anyone familiar with Donald Trump’s past shouldn’t be surprised by his behavior in this campaign. He has a long history of claiming victimization while eschewing self-accountability, which is ironic, given that Republicans/conservatives, etc. constantly prattle on about people being accountable for their own actions. That his supporters cannot accept this, and that they are conflating his rigging arguments with the 2000 election is a sad state of affairs.