Democrats worry about possible election conspiracy claims

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants the Democratic presidential candidate next year to score a landslide victory over President Trump.

If he lost by a narrow margin, she worries that Trump would challenge the result, claiming there had been a conspiracy to rig the election.  He might then refuse to leave office at the end of his term.

Her worry might seem far-fetched, but she notes that Trump continues to challenge Hillary Clinton’s nearly three million popular vote majority in 2016.  He claims there was massive illegal voting for her, though nobody has produced any evidence of it.

Pelosi’s solution would be for the Democrat to win by a large enough number of votes that it would be impossible to make a potentially believable claim that Trump’s defeat resulted from massive vote fraud.

Whatever they say about focusing mainly on the issues, the Democrats all have one principal goal – getting Trump out of the Oval Office.  Some assert he has made the country ripe for a major move to the left.

The Speaker argues that the party should pick a middle-of-the road candidate who could hold onto the Trump voters who voted for Democratic congressional candidates last year.  She does not see a winning answer to Trump politics being a radical turn to the left, as do some Democratic hopefuls.

She is concerned that Trump does not like or respect constitutional limits and practice.  He could seek to override the limits on his term in office by declaring a conspiracy-driven national emergency.  Given the Supreme Court’s partisan Bush-Gore decision in 2000, Trump might even hope for legal backing allowing him to hold onto power.

If this all seems like Nancy dreaming, it underrates the role of conspiracy thinking and false information in today’s political scene.  Fantastic stories are offered as explanation of major claims.  “Facts” are created to support these tales, even if there is no evidence for them.

The Washington Post Fact Checker, generally regarded as the best in the country, has documented more than 10,000 times since he took office when Trump has made a statement that was not true.  Many are repetitions.  He relies on manufactured facts to support policies he advocates.

He claims that those who oppose his misstatements are producing “fake news.”  It matters little to him that these reports can provide evidence.  Similarly, this way of viewing events might make possible charges of a conspiracy to commit vote fraud.

Just how widespread a conspiracy can extend is illustrated by the claim that vaccinations cause autism in children.  There is no evidence this is true.  The result has been the dangerous spread of measles and even some deaths.  The illness could have virtually been eliminated if people were vaccinated.

Trump’s own persistent claim that President Obama was not born in the U.S. is another example of a widespread but false belief spread by a claim lacking evidence.  Obama finally produced his birth certificate, but even that was questioned.  In light of Trump’s refusal to reveal his tax returns, Obama probably should have ignored him.

Who was responsible for the 9/11 attacks?  For the answer, you can pick from a menu of conspiracy theories, all stated with firm conviction.  Was the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre in Connecticut a performance by actors and staged by gun opponents, leaving nobody really dead?  No facts, no evidence.

Did Russia try to influence the 2016 presidential election in favor of Trump, even if his campaign did nothing more than accept the help?  Conspiracy claim or fact?

A conspiracy balloon should be popped by solid facts reported by the independent media relying on evidence.  A lot of that is happening, but faces two problems.

First, newspapers and cable channels have lined up editorially for or against Trump and it may seem their news coverage is biased.  That’s all the more true when opinion is offered as if it were a news report.

The other reason the media may be mistrusted is that readers and viewers bring their prejudices with them.  If you readily believe in conspiracies, then you may look behind a straight news report to find a hidden meaning.  A wide sense of cynicism exists, making suspect any objective journalism.

That’s why Pelosi may be right about what her party needs.  Its candidate would not only win, but must win massively.  Only then could conspiracy be forced to the fringes.

Voters can’t be passive, but must make the effort to separate fact from opinion, rejecting unfounded conspiracies.  Even if free speech allows anything to be said, facts matter.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.