The Trump Campaign Is Echoing Russian Talking Points About U.S. Elections Again
Amid the chaos of the 2020 Iowa caucuses, President Donald Trump and his allies tried to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election process, calling the system rigged. Some of Trump’s top surrogates, including his son Donald Trump Jr., his campaign chairman Brad Parscale, and even government officials such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), were openly speculating that the caucuses were rigged.
In the final weeks of the 2016 election, when Trump looked likely to lose, Russian bots and trolls were gearing up to claim that the system was rigged.
- According to special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russian operatives, “Starting in or around the summer of 2016,” Kremlin-funded trolls affiliated with the Internet Research Agency “began to promote allegations of voter fraud by the Democratic Party” on social media.
- That disinformation campaign allegedly included specific allegations that “Hillary Clinton has already committed voter fraud during the Democrat[ic] Iowa Caucus”—eerily close to Trump Jr.’s accusation that the Iowa Democratic Party is using technology problems as cover to “get the candidate the Democrat Overlords in DC want.”
- According to the indictment, the trolls continued alleging that the election was rigged all the way through to the end: “On or about November 2, 2016,” Russian trolls posted “allegations of ‘#VoterFraud by counting tens of thousands of ineligible mail inHillary votes being reported in Broward County, Florida.’”
- The October 2018 indictment of Elena Khusyaynova alleged that Russia continued its activities throughout the 2018 midterms. The indictment includes both internal messaging guidance on how to weaponize allegations of voter fraud in Democratic strongholds and at least one social media post alleging its occurrence.
At least one component of Russia’s online disinformation effort, WikiLeaks, was actively coordinating on the messaging with top Trump campaign surrogates such as Donald Trump Jr.
- As part of the Trump campaign’s broader communications with Russia-linked operatives, Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks began communicating via direct messages on Twitter in September 2016, explicitly discussing messaging for both WikiLeaks and Trump’s campaign.
- On Election Day, WikiLeaks messaged Trump Jr. with explicit disinformation suggestions: “[I]f your father ‘loses’ we think it is much more interesting if he DOES NOT conce[de] and spends time CHALLENGING the media and other types of rigging that occurred.”
Whether he knowingly coordinated with Russia or not in spreading this Russian talking point, Trump repeatedly attacked the integrity of the election, claiming the results would be rigged against him.
- Trump repeatedly said that he would only accept the results of the election if he won while claiming—despite all evidence to the contrary—that Hillary Clinton was benefiting from massive voter fraud.
- He and his campaign continued pushing the claim through the afternoon of Election Day, when they seized on what Politico described as “isolated glitches” to claim that the election was being rigged against him.
- Trump’s attacks on the legitimacy of American elections have only continued since he took office. He has frequently claimed that Clinton benefited from millions of fraudulent votes, even promising a “major investigation into voter fraud,” and alleged both before and after the 2018 midterms that Democratic gains in the House of Representatives were evidence that the system was rigged against him.
- Trump has not been alone in this: The Republican Party has continually chased phantom allegations of voter fraud as an excuse to crack down on voting rights, while questioning the legitimacy of perfectly normal democratic processes such as counting late-arriving absentee ballots.
The threat that President Trump poses to American democracy only continues to grow. Even as he faces the prospect of impeachment and removal from office for his efforts to cheat in the 2020 presidential election, he and his allies are laying the groundwork to further undermine American democracy any way they can.