Donald Trump Learned His 'Rigged' Election Talk From John McCain

Republicans have to own this garbage.

Donald Trump’s campaign can’t quite figure out how big the epic conspiracy to steal the election is, but they’re sure it’s out there. On the trail, Trump declares that “1.8 million deceased individuals” currently on the voter rolls will soon mysteriously vote for Hillary Clinton, tipping the electoral scales against him. After Wednesday night’s debate, Donald Trump Jr. insisted there were 4 million dead people on the verge of casting zombie ballots.

The claims are as pathetic as they are stupid. Pathetic, because polling suggests Trump will lose the popular vote by significantly more than 4 million votes. Stupid, because a nationwide criminal conspiracy infecting every precinct in the country ― infiltrating dozens of states governed by Republicans ― would be a nightmare to coordinate and impossible to get away with.

Listen to The Huffington Post’s analysis of the Trump campaign’s implosion and its implications for the future of democracy in the latest episode of HuffPost’s politics podcast, So That Happened, embedded below:

Back in 2012, the Pew Center on the States found that there were, in fact, a lot of dead people on the voter rolls: 1.8 million, Daddy Trump’s figure. Lil’ Trump’s larger number probably comes from 2016 Pew data indicating that 4 million voter records are “out of date.” Alas for both, only 157,000 of these records were for people who had actually died. Daddy is behind the times, Little One simply wrong.

None of this even matters. Here’s how dead people end up on the voter registration rolls: They die. And dead people don’t show up to vote. Neither do people impersonating them. More than 1 billion total ballots were cast in national, local and primary elections between 2000 and 2014. A total of just 31 of those votes were fraudulent, according to a study by Justin Levitt, a law professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles.

So Trump’s claims are ridiculous. His refusal to respect the outcome of the election he will soon lose is, obviously, appalling. Many prominent Republicans are now distancing themselves from Trump’s imploding candidacy, citing reverence for the American democratic process. They should. They should also be ashamed.

“I didn’t like the outcome of the 2008 election. But I had a duty to concede, and I did so without reluctance,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement this week. “A concession isn’t just an exercise in graciousness. It is an act of respect for the will of the American people, a respect that is every American leader’s first responsibility. Whatever our differences we owe each other that respect, which we express by defending the democratic values and practices that protect us all.”

Once upon a time, in the distant past when the 2008 election had not yet been decided, McCain had different ideas. Back then, McCain insisted that the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, was engaged in a massive multi-state scheme to steal the election. ACORN’s activity, McCain told Telemundo, “deprives Americans of their most precious right … I am worried about Senator Obama’s connections with ACORN.”

It wasn’t a one-off gaffe. The McCain campaign cut TV ads reiterating the charge, and the candidate himself even espoused it in a nationally televised debate, saying ACORN was “on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.”

It was all nonsense. ACORN was an alliance of anti-poverty groups that protested worker abuse by corporations, pushed for a higher minimum wage and registered a lot of people to vote. Republican leaders didn’t like this, because when ACORN registered voters, the people they registered tended to be poor people and people of color ― just like much of ACORN’s staff. And it turns out that poor people and people of color skew Democratic in the general election. The more people ACORN registered, the harder it was for Republicans to win. Democracy can be very inconvenient.

ACORN wasn’t a perfect network. Eventually 70 of its staffers were charged with voter registration fraud, filling out bogus registration forms for people with names like “Mickey Mouse.”

This was annoying for state election officials, but these registration wrongs were not voter fraud. Even if Mickey Mouse somehow made it through the certification process, it would never have made a difference in the election. No giant talking rodent ever showed up to vote.

But McCain, The Wall Street Journal and others used these anecdotes to scream about a massive vote-rigging conspiracy. No widespread vote-rigging ever surfaced, but the GOP never let it go. In 2009, right-wing provocateur James O’Keefe published an absurd, selectively edited video that seemed to show ACORN staffers helping pimps engage in human trafficking and prostitutes avoid paying taxes.

It was a hoax. Every subsequent government investigation into ACORN cleared the group of legal wrongdoing. But that didn’t stop congressional Republicans from revoking federal funding for ACORN’s activities and dragging its name through the mud. ACORN formally disbanded in 2010.

But Republicans were not satisfied with ACORN’s mere demise. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) insisted that front groups for the defunct organization were conspiring with Occupy Wall Street in 2011, and conservative media blasted out his caterwauls. Republicans in Congress continued to pursue an attack on the non-existent group, voting more than a dozen times to block funding to the organization in the years after it had broken up. Surely it is a coincidence that the dead horse Republicans were beating had worked on behalf of the poor.

In an essay for The New York Times last week, the celebrated presidential biographer Jon Meacham longed for the days of a more civil, decent Republican Party, when “stable and sane” presidents like George H.W. Bush could sympathize with leukemia sufferers instead of mocking reporters with disabilities, as Trump has done. But Meacham also acknowledged Bush Sr. had teamed up with notorious mudslinger strategists Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes to win the 1988 election. His infamous “Willie Horton” ad is now widely derided as a racist scare-tactic.

To Meacham, this embarrassment is a side story when compared with four years of moderate, humane governing. Meacham is saddened and surprised by how ugly Republican politics have turned in the decades since.

It’s a naive assessment. Roger Ailes was forced out of Fox News this year as a flood of sexual harassment allegations against him poured in, spanning decades. He now works for Donald Trump, a man now facing multiple accusations of sexual assault. 

It all seems pretty consistent.

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.