LAS VEGAS—As we exited so-called spin alley at the Thomas & Mack Center, the site of Wednesday’s third and final presidential debate, I asked Donald Trump senior adviser Boris Epshteyn if his team would be focusing Wednesday night on the latest sexual assault allegations against Bill Clinton. He cut me off. “We’re focusing on the message we’re going to deliver to the American people and that is on national security and on the economy,” Epshteyn said. “What I do know is that any and all allegations against Mr. Trump are uncorroborated and unsubstantiated.”
When I clarified that I was asking about Clinton, Epshteyn took the claims much more seriously: “As far as Bill Clinton’s history goes, that’s well documented, as is the fact that Hillary Clinton bullied, smeared, and really shamed the women that have come out against Bill Clinton and that’s her record on women’s rights. She’s no champion of women.”
Epshteyn was already in fine form. He’d had a big week, having served on several occasions as the campaign’s mouthpiece for its hysterical claims of a rigged election. On Tuesday, Epshteyn told CNN’s Jake Tapper that a thoroughly debunked story in the Washington Post demonstrated that Barack Obama might have won North Carolina in 2008 because of illegal voting by noncitizens (Obama won in that state by a little more than 14,000 votes).
“The 2014 article in the Washington Post clearly stated that due to the percentage of noncitizens voting,” he told me now, “there could be an argument made that the election in the state of North Carolina could have swung to Barack Obama because of noncitizens voting.”
The Post has since updated the article to include three rebuttals and a peer-reviewed study that debunked the underlying findings of the original authors. The study concluded “the rate of non-citizen voting in the United States is likely zero.”
When I noted that the Post had all but retracted that article, Epshteyn laughed and said, “They’ve also changed ownership since 2014, so maybe that’s their decision now.”
The implication was that Jeff Bezos—who in fact had purchased the Post from the same parent company that currently owns Slate a year before that article originally appeared—had something to do with the newspaper questioning its original findings. When asked if that’s what he was saying, Epshteyn responded, “I know that the information’s out there, it’s out there from Pew Research as well, it’s out there about percentages of non-citizens, illegal immigrants voting in this country.”
That Pew study, which the campaign has been citing, does not offer evidence that noncitizens have been voting, or that voter fraud actually takes place; it merely says that in 2012 lots of people were still registered in two places. (I believe that I was registered in Washington, D.C., and Virginia for a time myself, but only ever voted in one place and eventually removed my Virginia registration.)
“The key here is that—look at the state of Pennsylvania, there could have been over 700 instances of voter fraud,” Epshteyn responded when I reiterated that the North Carolina report had been rebutted.
Of course, as Jamelle Bouie has previously explained in Slate, the racially charged arguments about large-scale voter fraud in Pennsylvania have no basis in reality.
“Right here in the state of Nevada, the whole Dallas Cowboys starting lineup registered to vote right here,” Epshteyn said, attempting to offer another example. “So voter fraud has been rampant in this country and we want to make sure that there’s integrity in voting.”
That was a real thing: Some ACORN volunteers registered the Cowboys to vote in Nevada, and more than a dozen ACORN officials either pleaded guilty to or were convicted of some variety of charge related to election registration fraud. But as the Washington Post’s David Weigel noted on Monday, none of those fraudulent registrations translated to votes, and there were virtually no incidences of that type of voter fraud in the 2008 election.
“As far as North Carolina goes,” Epshteyn went on, “we have the information that’s been out there. It’s out there not just from the Washington Post, Pew itself has put out information on voter fraud as well as other sources.
“If the Washington Post now says that somehow they were wrong in 2014, well you can be the judge.”
The Trump campaign is clearly staking its claim of a rigged election on multiple different lines of evidence, endlessly repeated in the hopes of whipping up enough smoke so their supporters will believe there’s a fire. So far, it’s working, with large numbers of Republican voters telling pollsters they believe the election might be “stolen” from him. Certain kinds of uncorroborated and unsubstantiated evidence carry more weight with Trump supporters.