Vice president-elect Mike Pence excused his running mate’s false allegations of voting fraud on Sunday by arguing President-elect Donald Trump has a right to “express his opinion.”
One week ago, Trump tweeted that he would have won the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election if “millions” of people had not illegally cast ballots. There is absolutely no evidence to corroborate claims of voter fraud on that scale in any presidential election, let alone the most recent one.
In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 27, 2016
When asked about the allegations on Sunday morning, Pence said he found them “refreshing.”
“Well, it’s his right to express his opinion as president-elect of the United States,” said Pence during an appearance on ABC’s This Week. “I think one of the things that’s refreshing about our president-elect and one of the reasons why I think he made such an incredible connection with people all across this country is because he tells you what’s on his mind.”
Of course, the president-elect wasn’t just expressing his opinion; he made a factual claim that, based on all the available evidence, was plainly false. And because he broadcasted that claim to millions of Twitter followers, he added to the general confusion over whether the 2016 presidential election was legitimate. Days after Trump made his baseless accusations, one of his supporters said she had heard from “the media” that “millions of illegals” had voted in the election.
Pence’s defense of Trump’s lie matches a longstanding pattern: When the president-elect makes a claim that is obviously indefensible, his surrogates mitigate the damage by arguing it shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Former Trump campaign manager and current CNN contributor Corey Lewandowski said during a public event on Thursday that the media was at fault for taking so many of Trump’s statements literally.
“The American people didn’t. They understood it,” said Lewandowski, who left the Trump campaign after he was caught on video physically attacking a journalist. “They understood that sometimes, when you have a conversation with people, whether it’s around the dinner table or at a bar, you’re going to say things, and sometimes you don’t have all the facts to back it up.”
That same day, another Trump surrogate and paid CNN contributor — Scottie Neil Hughes — defended some of the president-elect’s false claims by saying, “there’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, as facts.”
“And so Mr. Trump’s tweets, amongst a certain crowd, a large part of the population, are truth. When he says that millions of people illegally voted, he has some facts — amongst him and his supporters, and people believe they have facts to back that up,” said Hughes. “Those that do not like Mr. Trump, they’ll say that those are lies, and there are no facts to back it up.”
Pence has yet to weigh in on whether facts exist.