Will Trump wake up?

Our view: Re­counts in Wis., Mich. and Pa. won’t amount to much, but the pres­i­dent-elect’s itchy Twit­ter fin­gers could get us in se­ri­ous trou­ble

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND VOICES -

The ef­fort by Green Party pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Jill Stein to force re­counts of the vote in Wis­con­sin, Michi­gan and Penn­syl­va­nia is al­most cer­tainly a waste of time, ef­fort, money and emo­tional en­ergy by Hil­lary Clin­ton sup­port­ers who haven’t man­aged to get past de­nial in the stages of grief. But Don­ald Trump’s claim that he would have won the pop­u­lar vote if not for mas­sive voter fraud in Cal­i­for­nia, Vir­ginia and New Hamp­shire is far more dis­turb­ing. Dr. Stein’s quest amounts to one last sideshow in an elec­tion full of them. Mr. Trump’s Sun­day tweet-storm, on the other hand, sug­gests that as­sum­ing the man­tle of pres­i­dent-elect hasn’t stopped him from traf­fick­ing in base­less con­spir­acy the­o­ries, even one that un­der­mines the le­git­i­macy of an elec­tion he won. The last few weeks, in which Mr. Trump has been re­ceiv­ing clas­si­fied se­cu­rity brief­ings and set­ting him­self to the awe­some task of tak­ing over lead­er­ship of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, ought to have had a sober­ing in­flu­ence on a man who showed only spo­radic flashes of dis­ci­pline and self-con­trol dur­ing the cam­paign. The fact that it seem­ingly hasn’t doesn’t bode well for the next four years.

The Clin­ton cam­paign is right in assert­ing that the mar­gin of Mr. Trump’s vic­tory in the clos­est of the three states Dr. Stein is tar­get­ing is far be­yond the num­ber of votes that have changed in any pre­vi­ous statewide re­count. Re­call that in Florida in 2000, Al Gore nar­rowed Ge­orge W. Bush’s lead by 1,247 votes, and that was in an elec­tion con­ducted in large part on old, er­ror-prone punch-card ma­chines. Michi­gan in 2016 con­ducted its elec­tion en­tirely on op­ti­cal scan pa­per bal­lots (sim­i­lar to the ones em­ployed in Mary­land this year), which aren’t prone to hang­ing chads or any of the other buga­boos in 2000 Florida.

It would take some­thing ex­traor­di­nary, like a mas­sive hack­ing of elec­tion soft­ware, to pro­duce false re­sults on a scale that would tip the elec­tion. Some com­puter sci­en­tists who have been ad­vo­cat­ing for post-elec­tion au­dit­ing say that such an at­tack, per­haps by for­eign ac­tors, is the­o­ret­i­cally pos­si­ble. But it wouldn’t be easy. The Clin­ton cam­paign, which of course has the most in­cen­tive to in­ves­ti­gate any whiff of hack­ing, says it has found no ev­i­dence to sug­gest that’s what hap­pened. And even if hack­ing did oc­cur, it’s not clear that avail­able re­count pro­ce­dures would prove it — not all of the coun­ties in Wis­con­sin and Penn­syl­va­nia have pa­per records of the votes cast, so in those cases a re­count amounts to noth­ing more than re-cre­at­ing the process that led to the ini­tial re­sults.

All that is to say that the re­count ef­forts should pose no real con­cern for Mr. Trump, no more so than the fact that Ms. Clin­ton ap­pears to have bested him sig­nif­i­cantly in the pop­u­lar vote. Yet talk of both seemed to set him off over the week­end. He claimed on Twit­ter that “In ad­di­tion to win­ning the Elec­toral Col­lege in a land­slide, I won the pop­u­lar vote if you deduct the Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump has no ev­i­dence for his claim that “mil­lions” of il­le­gal votes were cast against him. mil­lions of peo­ple who voted il­le­gally,” and he went on to al­lege “se­ri­ous voter fraud in Vir­ginia, New Hamp­shire and Cal­i­for­nia.” He tweeted out ex­ten­sive quo­ta­tions from Ms. Clin­ton about the im­por­tance of rec­og­niz­ing the re­sults of the elec­tion and went on to de­scribe how he would have won the pop­u­lar vote if he had tried.

In all, it was a re­minder of some of Mr. Trump’s worst traits as a can­di­date. He can’t stop him­self from re­spond­ing to the slight­est provo­ca­tion. He as­serts false­hoods as facts with no at­tempt at ver­i­fi­ca­tion. He makes no dis­tinc­tion be­tween well-vet­ted sources of in­for­ma­tion and crack­pot web­sites like the one that ap­pears to have orig­i­nated the claim about Vir­ginia, New Hamp­shire and Cal­i­for­nia.

Af­ter meet­ing with Mr. Trump for the first time, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama said, “Re­gard­less of what ex­pe­ri­ence or as­sump­tions he brought to the of­fice, this of­fice has a way of wak­ing you up. And those as­pects of his po­si­tions or pre­dis­po­si­tions that don’t match up with re­al­ity he will find shaken up pretty quick, be­cause re­al­ity has a way of assert­ing it­self.”

Ap­par­ently, noth­ing has awak­ened Mr. Trump yet, and he re­mains stun­ningly im­per­vi­ous to re­al­ity.

What does that por­tend when Mr. Trump is mak­ing de­ci­sions about mat­ters far more sig­nif­i­cant than whether to fire off a tweet on Thanks­giv­ing week­end? When the na­tion faces a cri­sis, will he lis­ten to the facts or in­vent his own and act ac­cord­ingly?

We ex­pect that what­ever re­counts Dr. Stein man­ages to se­cure will come and go with lit­tle more at­ten­tion or ef­fect than a sim­i­lar ef­fort pro­duced in Ohio in 2004. But Mr. Trump’s thin skin and poor self-con­trol are here to stay.

MAN­DEL NGAN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

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