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
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.