The falsehood took root a week ago, when President Trump claimed in a private Jan. 23 meeting with top congressional leaders that between 3 million and 5 million undocumented immigrants illegally voted in November’s election. From there, the infection spread, strengthened with faulty evidence and scattered anecdotes: A congressman offered his own estimate of 2.4 million illegally registered voters. The White House press secretary misrepresented the findings of a study and suggested, with no evidence, that fraud happens in “big states, very populous states and urban areas.” Other Republicans pointed to an investigation of a small batch of voter registrations in Virginia, convictions for vote-buying in local races in Kentucky and a false statistic about voter turnout in Pennsylvania being suspiciously high in 2012. Within days, the stray comment at a reception — a variation on a false claim Trump had been making for months — led to the president’s call for an investigation, plans for an executive order and a promise from Vice President Pence to Republicans that the administration would “initiate a full evaluation of voting rolls.”
The voter fraud canard was just one in a rush of falsehoods that poured from Trump and his advisers during his first 10 days in office. There were also claims that the crowd on the Mall for his inauguration was the largest ever (it wasn’t); that readership at the New York Times is falling (not true, the newspaper says); that there is an “unprecedented surge of illegal migrants” (the number has stabilized after decades of growth); and that a newly implemented travel ban is similar to actions that President Barack Obama took in 2011 (it’s not).
The rapid dissemination of such easily refutable claims shows how Trump’s administration will be unlike any other — and how comments rooted in conspiracy theories instead of facts can now become the basis for official government policy.
“I would urge the president to knock this off,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said soon after Trump’s igniting comment. “This is going to erode his ability to govern this country if he does not stop it.”