Vote fraud and election manipulation are as old as our country. How else can one view a system that, at its outset, prevented black Americans and women from casting ballots at all?
Nor did disenfranchising voters, or rigging elections, end with the passage of the 15th and 19th Amendments. Vote fraud made the South solidly Democratic for generations and helped Lyndon Johnson get his start in Texas politics. It may have propelled John F. Kennedy to the presidency. Republicans know this history, and talk about it all the time, invariably in partisan terms. Democrats do, too, mostly in the context of modern GOP efforts to purge voting rolls in ways designed to help Republicans.
In these hyper-partisan times, the two parties talk past one another when it comes to honest voting. There are notable exceptions, such as the bipartisan effort currently taking place in Pennsylvania to ensure electoral integrity -- and bolster voters’ confidence in the system. The latest battleground is over mail-in ballots. Democrats claim they are perfectly safe. Republicans say that Democrats are engaged in a premediated plot to steal the 2020 election. For the most part, mainstream journalists accept the Democrats’ story line. Bias is a problem for my profession. It’s a problem for Republicans, too, who feel they can’t get their views heard, and who feel the need to milk every chance they do get on air or in print for partisan advantage.
Those two problems -- a press that leans toward Democrats and aggrieved Republicans with a chip on their shoulder -- came to a head this week when Trump campaign official Mercedes Schlapp appeared on Brianna Keilar’s CNN midday show. I didn’t see Tuesday’s segment, but Schlapp felt shortchanged by the experience. I know this because she submitted a fiery op-ed to RealClearPolitics, which we published Thursday afternoon, consisting of two main contentions: First, she said Keilar had “lied” while fact-checking her assertions the following day about Nevada’s new vote-by-mail statute. Second, she said Keilar was not only biased, but that her husband was a Donald Trump hater who had tweeted that the president made him want to “throw up.”
The second of these contentions is flatly false and the first was a stretch. In tone, Keilar’s “fact check” does seem more like an opinion column than traditional fact-checking. She accused Schlapp of “cynically misrepresenting” the new Nevada law and also gratuitously criticized the Trump administration’s funding of the U.S. Postal Service -- even though Nevada election officials have said they anticipate no issues mailing ballots to all of the state’s active registered voters.
This is where it gets complicated. All the provisions of the hurriedly passed Nevada law are not clear, but what Republicans are saying is that the new statute gives voters three days’ grace period to get their ballots in. They are supposed to be postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3, but pre-paid postage markers on the Nevada envelopes means that there may not be any postmark to go by. If it appeared the night of Nov. 3 that Trump had won, Republicans are saying, Democrats could use the “vote harvesting” feature of the new law to round up uncast ballots and quickly get them in the mail. Keilar pooh-poohed this concern; Schlapp obsessed on it. This is a difference of perspective, however, not a lie.
As for the anchor’s husband attacking the president on Twitter, well, that’s less ambiguous. The tweet Schlapp mentioned was by an obscure Twitter user with the same name as Keilar’s husband -- but who is obviously not her husband. It was sloppy mistake, one easily checked. Keilar’s husband, Fernando Lujan, is a decorated Special Forces officer who has worked in the Trump administration for more than three years. While there, he has earned promotions within the U.S. Army and been appointed to the National Security Council. He helped the president develop a new approach to Afghanistan, and spent much of the last two years in Afghanistan implementing that policy. Although in 2016 he appears to have “liked” a single tweet critical of Donald Trump -- before Trump was elected president -- he simply never tweeted what Schlapp said he did.
Col. Lujan also seems to be a gracious person. After Schlapp reached out to him and his wife Friday, he tweeted that it was good “to see that there’s still room for decency, even in this hyper-polarized political environment.”
In a conversation late Friday morning with RealClearPolitics, Schlapp expressed her regrets to us as well. But friends and colleagues of Brianna Keilar and Fernando Lujan also believe that RCP owes them an apology. I agree, and it’s mine to tender: I made the decision to publish that column. So, to Brianna Keilar and Fernando Lujan, I’m sorry for the anguish and aggravation this caused you both.