What Trump Really Believes About Elections
In the moment, it’s hard to see what’s real and what isn’t. “Gaslighting” does that to you. Sometimes the best remedy is to revisit history to regain our bearings, in this case, to remind ourselves what Donald J. Trump really believes about elections.
The presidential elections in 2016 and 2020 were both hotly contested and both major party candidates were controversial in their own ways. How the candidates, or their supporters, handled the results has some stark contrasts, however.
On November 8, 2016, over 150 million votes were cast, the media predicted a winner, and the loser graciously offered her concession. Hillary Clinton received over three million more votes than Donald Trump, but not enough electoral votes to win.
There were a number of calls for Clinton to request recounts and otherwise challenge election results in various swing states, but she declined, only joining in efforts commenced by others seeking recounts in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Then president-elect Trump’s lawyers filed motions seeking to stop all three recounts.
Clinton’s decision to not contest the 2016 results may have been prompted by President Obama’s White House having a preference for a smooth transition of power.[i] There had been significant litigation before the election, in at least one case challenging planned actions of Roger Stone’s “Stop the Steal” organization which Democrats claimed was merely disguised voter intimidation. This 2016 “Stop the Steal” group did not contest Trump’s victory in the 2016 election.
In December 2016, a group of presidential electors and lawyers — Hamilton Electors and Hamilton Defenders, respectively — addressed a related issue, namely confirm that presidential electors were allowed to vote their conscience, free from party restraint. They wrote letters and filed lawsuits, putting their reputations, energy, and passion on the line to keep someone they considered unfit from ascending to the office of President of the United States. They were not trying to flip the election to Clinton.
On December 5, 2016, the New York Times published an op-ed by Texas Republican Presidential Elector Christopher Suprun explaining why he would not vote for Trump.
I am [being] asked to cast a vote on Dec. 19 for someone who shows daily he is not qualified for the office. . . . I watch Mr. Trump fail to unite America and drive a wedge between us. . . . He does not encourage civil discourse, but chooses to stoke fear and create outrage. This is unacceptable. . . .
[M]ore than 50 Republican former national security officials and foreign policy experts co-signed a letter opposing him. In their words, “he would be a dangerous president.” …
[A] president cannot be a demagogue. Mr. Trump urged violence against protesters at his rallies during the campaign. He speaks of retribution against his critics. He has surrounded himself with advisers such as Stephen K. Bannon, who claims to be a Leninist and lauds villains and their thirst for power, including Darth Vader. . . .
Electors of conscience can still do the right thing for the good of the country. Presidential electors have the legal right and a constitutional duty to vote their conscience. I believe electors should unify behind a Republican alternative, an honorable and qualified man or woman . . .
Fifteen years ago, I swore an oath to defend my country and Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. On Dec. 19, I will do it again.[ii]
In Colorado, Washington, and California, Democrat electors filed lawsuits seeking the right to vote for a compromise Republican candidate for president, as Mr. Suprun had also suggested. Let me repeat that — Democrats sued for the right to vote for a Republican president. They were choosing country over party. They were choosing country over personality. Hillary Clinton did not participate in these lawsuits, nor did the Democratic Party.
The California lawsuit, brought by Vinz Koller, began his complaint like this —
Plaintiff seeks the protection to act as a Presidential Elector not merely by placing a ceremonial vote, but as part of a deliberative body, placing a vote that is most likely to ensure that only a person with the adequate qualifications for office be voted in as President of the United States.
Currently 29 states, including California, have state laws that bind presidential electors to do no more than place a ceremonial vote in accord with their party affiliation or pre-election pledge. Plaintiff here, is joining the path of other electors in the States of Colorado and Washington seeking relief from state statutes that interfere with their right to act as a deliberative body and, if appropriate under the circumstances, place their votes in the best interest of the country, even if they might not be their party’s candidate.[iii]
Donald Trump and his campaign intervened in the case, as did the California Republican Party, and fought to force Democrat electors to place, by then, a wasted vote for Clinton who had already conceded, despite having won the majority popular vote. Trump and the GOP argued, in part:
Three months ago, Plaintiff accepted appointment as an elector knowing that California law requires him to “vote for . . . the candidates of the political party which [he] represent[s].” … Yet just a week before Plaintiff was to honor that commitment, he seeks the Court’s permission to back out. He seeks to renege not just on his commitment to his Party, which has for months relied on Plaintiff to honor his promise, but also on his commitment to tens of millions of California voters, all of whom relied on that promise when they voted for President on November 8.
Plaintiff’s request is at odds with the Constitution, precedent, and historical practice. Two centuries ago, Justice Story wrote that a presidential elector’s refusal to vote for the winner of his State’s election would constitute “a political usurpation” and “a fraud upon his constituents.” [cite omitted] . . .
In the months leading up to November 8, California voters endured a lengthy, expensive, hard-fought Presidential election. The voters reflected and debated about the candidates’ qualifications, records, and plans. And on November 8, they cast their ballots — on the understanding that state law required the electors to respect their will. They surely expected their collective choice would be honored when the Electoral College meets this December. …
The prejudice does not stop at the California state line. Rather, by disrupting the
presidential transition, Plaintiff’s delay threatens our nation as a whole. The Presidential Transition Act of 1963 declares that “[t]he national interest requires” orderly presidential transitions and that “[a]ny disruption” in a transition “could produce results detrimental to the safety and well-being of the United States and its people.” [cite omitted] The Act thus provides for the transition to begin immediately after the general election in November. [cite omitted]. For weeks, therefore, the President-Elect and his Transition have been reviewing potential appointees, preparing draft legislation, and coordinating efforts with President Obama, Congress, and dozens of federal agencies — all in reliance on state laws guaranteeing that electors will vote on December 19 in accordance with their States’ popular votes. Plaintiff seeks to upset the deep reliance interests of the people who “have proceeded with their affairs — business, political, and social — upon the assumption that the election is over.” [iv]
The legal challenges were heard and declined. The electors took their stand to preserve their legal rights, but did so peacefully. On December 8, 2016, presidential electors placed their votes without incident. On January 6, 2017 Congress counted those votes within an hour’s time, even with some challenges. Neither President Obama nor Secretary Clinton held any rallies that day, neither suggested their supporters should go to the US Capitol, en masse, to “fight” or to “take back the country.” A regular and peaceful presidential transition was completed shortly thereafter.
For the November 2020 election, however, Trump claimed from well before the election and continuing to today that if he didn’t win, the election would have been “stolen” and a “fraud.” Roger Stone’s “Stop the Steal” became one of several rallying cries renewed by Trump because this time he lost both the popular and electoral vote.
In a complete reversal of position from 2016, Trump has never conceded and only begrudgingly and incompletely participated in the transition process. Trump has tried to pressure state legislators and election officials to change the votes in his favor, and even demanded that Vice President Pence exercise power the Constitution does not give him to overturn the will of the voters. And when that failed, Trump incited thousands of followers to march on the US Capitol, not to peacefully protest outside, but to “fight” and “take back their country.”
Here’s what Trump told the United States District Court for the District of Northern California in 2016 about the dangers of such actions:
[In 1876], disputes concerning electors from multiple states dragged out for months after Election Day. The resulting political uncertainty provoked a constitutional crisis, with many Democrats crying “Tilden or Blood!” and Kentucky preparing 100,000 men to march on Washington. Roy Morris, Fraud of the Century 214 (2003). The uncertainty also sapped the legitimacy of the ultimate victor, President Hayes, whom Democrats thereafter called “Rutherfraud” and “His Fraudulency.” Id. at 2. Congress enacted the strict timeline of the Electoral Count Act to prevent a repetition of “the year of disgrace, 1876,” in which a “cabal . . . had determined . . . to debauc[h] the Electoral College.” 18 Cong. Rec. 30 (Dec. 7, 1886) (remarks of Rep. Caldwell).[v]
“Gaslighting” is “a form psychological abuse where a person or group makes someone question their sanity, perception of reality, or memories. People experiencing gaslighting often feel confused, anxious, and unable to trust themselves.”[vi]
“Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it,” said writer-philosopher George Santayana. “Gaslighting” confuses one’s recall of history and the end result is the same.
No political candidate likes to lose, and every political candidate has access to certain legal remedies of recount or review of an election. But a core pillar of our democracy is the peaceful transition of power on every level of elected office. Have the last two elections destroyed that pillar? We certainly hope not.
The truth is that almost all Americans believe that there should be election integrity, a pre-ordained set of rules on how elections are conducted, freedom from duress in placing votes, and transparency in the counting process. Almost all of us believe that only legal votes should be counted and illegal votes should not.
When those phrases — election integrity, legal votes, and illegal votes — are misused, when one candidate substitutes an ardent desire to win over everything else, the American public is being gaslighted. We aren’t really arguing over core belief or ; we’ve been sucked into a vortex of ego.
Trump has consistently claimed that any election result he does not like was rigged. He has good reason to believe this because, according to his former fixer attorney Michael Cohen, Trump has had people rig polls for him on more than one occasion.
In 2012, Trump claimed the election of Obama was rigged. “We can’t let this happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty. Our nation is totally divided!”
In early 2016, Iowa caucus, Trump claimed the results were rigged. “Based on the fraud committed by Senator Ted Cruz during the Iowa Caucus, either a new election should take place or Cruz results nullified.”
In November 2016, Trump accepted the win, but claimed that he really won the popular vote too.
In November 2020, Trump returned to his claim of a rigged election. “[T]hey rigged an election. They rigged it like they’ve never rigged an election before. … We will never give up. We will never concede, it doesn’t happen. … [W]e fight. We fight like Hell and if you don’t fight like Hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”[vii]
We’ve had hotly contested elections before and we will have them again, but revisiting history may provide us some solace that the current battle cries on the street about election integrity will go away with the person whose only criteria for defining a fair election is whether he won it.
Melody A. Kramer is an award-winning author, a lawyer, and she represented California presidential elector Vinz Koller in a 2016 lawsuit seeking to free Democrat electors to vote for a compromise Republican candidate instead of Donald Trump.
[iii] Koller v. Brown, et al, United States District Court, Northern California, Case №5:16-cv-07069-EJD, Doc. #1
[iv] Koller v. Brown, et al, supra, Doc. #27.
[vi] Heather Huizen, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/gaslighting