Donald Trump is president. He may not be a very good one, but he won an election. And no amount of irresponsible commentary from his defeated opponent will change that.
The fact that Trump received nearly 3 million fewer total votes than Hillary Clinton doesn’t make him any less our president under the constitutionally prescribed Electoral College system. And the fact that Russia attempted to influence the 2016 election with a preference for Trump — something reports from special counsel Robert Muller and both Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee have found — does not, on its own, obscure Trump’s legitimacy, either.
If we let that type of nefarious foreign activity undermine the legitimacy of a duly-elected chief executive, without conclusive evidence that his or her campaign colluded in that activity, then all an adversary has to do is try to influence our election with the goal of helping one candidate, get caught, and then our whole system starts to unwind. It’s an incredibly slippery slope to go down, particularly right now.
In the midst of an impeachment debate, when Democrats are extolling the undoubted virtue of the Constitution and the rule of law, it’s dangerous for one of their most visible figures — and in particular, the very person who lost the election — to be asserting that Trump’s 2016 victory was illegitimate.
When Clinton said in an interview with PBS last week that “obviously I can beat [Trump] again,” she played into the dubious notion of Trump’s 2016 win not counting. And though she indicated she was joking in that case, it’s hard to take the comment in jest when, less than two weeks ago, she asserted on CBS that Trump is an “illegitimate president.”
This is not dissimilar to the way Trump can’t seem to accept the widely-held conclusion that Russia sought to interfere in the election, and separate that reality from the allegations — unsubstantiated by the Mueller report — that his campaign was in on the effort. Clinton’s unfortunate tack doesn’t excuse Trump’s failure to meaningfully confront Russia’s past and continued election interference efforts, but it does perhaps help explain in part his unfortunate reticence to prioritize this important security issue. Nor does it excuse his calling the Democratic-led impeachment investigation “ a coup” against him.
Clinton’s rhetoric is a complete turnaround from the campaign trail in 2016, when she and others were outraged at the thought that Trump might not honor the results of the election. And now that is essentially what she, and anyone else who buys into the “illegitimate president” narrative, is doing.
“I support our democracy. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But I certainly will support the outcome of this election,” Clinton said during one of the 2016 debates. She’s come a long way from that reasonable position. Admittedly, so has the country. But that does not change the currently available facts that there is no evidence of votes being changed by the Russians, and Mueller did not establish collusion from the Trump campaign. The 10 instances of possible obstruction identified in the report, while troubling, all took place after the election. They may be relevant in a conversation about impeachment, but not about the validity of Trump’s election.
People don’t get to talk about defending America values and institutions only to toss them aside when they’re not convenient. And honoring the results of an election is such a value.
We have lingering questions about Trump’s actions and intent relative to Ukraine, and whether those rise to the level of impeachment. America deserves a full, fair attempt to gather all the facts here. We also have little doubt that congressional Democrats will have a hard time claiming credibility on their impeachment inquiry with a large portion of Americans if they echo Clinton’s irresponsible suggestion that Trump is an illegitimate president.