On January 23, 2017, his first full day of work as president, Donald Trump hosted leaders of Congress at the White House. The expectation was that he would use the occasion, as previous presidents had, to lay out his policy agenda and jump-start his administration. But instead of focusing on his legislative priorities, the president launched into a diatribe about the race he’d just won, claiming without a shred of evidence that 3 million to 5 million illegal votes had been cast.
The lawmakers, not yet accustomed to the peculiar illogic of this White House, were still capable of being shocked. Maybe they shouldn’t have been surprised. During the 2016 campaign, perhaps assuming he would lose, Trump had insisted that the coming vote was “rigged.” (In a presidential debate, he refused to say he’d accept the results of the election if he lost to Hillary Clinton.) Winning didn’t dampen his conspiracy theorizing; he just transformed into the ultimate sore winner. Weeks after he won the election, Trump tweeted that the media were ignoring serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire, and California. (The media were indeed “ignoring” his claims—because there was no evidence for them.)
Continuing to make these assertions as his presidency got under way, in May 2017 Trump established a voter-fraud task force, installing as its de facto leader Kris Kobach, then the secretary of state of Kansas, who had long crusaded for more restrictive voting laws, citing widespread fraud he couldn’t prove. Trump disbanded the task force in January 2018, continuing to claim fraud but producing no evidence.