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Why a weekend of raging Trump tweets should give us pause

Donald Trump closed out the Thanksgiving holiday weekend by tweeting an outrageous lie about the 2016 election.

"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," the president-elect tweeted on Sunday.

He went on to directly target states he lost: "Serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California — so why isn't the media reporting on this? Serious bias — big problem!"

To begin with the obvious: There is no evidence whatsoever that any of this happened. The claim of millions voting illegally appears to have come from a "story" published by conspiracy website Infowars, which has also promulgated claims that the Sandy Hook massacre was faked and Hillary Clinton is a "demon from hell."

Donald Trump
Mike Segar | Reuters
Donald Trump

Serious election observers quickly condemned Trump, pointing out that instances of noncitizens voting are vanishingly rare. "We know historically that this almost never happens," David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, told Politico. "You're more likely to get eaten by a shark that simultaneously gets hit by lightning than to find a noncitizen voting."

One common theory about Trump's unhinged tweets is that they are calculated to draw attention away from more serious and more damaging stories. In this case, the election tweets followed a lengthy investigation by The New York Times into Trump's sprawling global business empire and how his own personal financial interests could shade his decisions as president. Trump has already shown no real desire to separate himself from his businesses — beyond saying his children will be in charge — and argued that it's legally impossible for the president to have a conflict of interest.

It's possible the distraction theory could have some merit. But the simpler answer is probably the correct one. Trump simply cannot stand the fact that while he won a narrow Electoral College majority, he now trails Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by nearly 2 million votes. Trump is also reportedly enraged by Green Party nominee Jill Stein's efforts to push a recount in Wisconsin, where he won by just 27,257 votes. Stein, who is also pushing for recounts in Michigan and Pennsylvania, won 30,000 votes in Wisconsin. So her recount effort there seems aimed at proving she did not cost Clinton the state rather than altering the actual result.

The Hillary Clinton campaign has not pushed the recount effort but said it would participate to ensure fairness. None of the recount efforts are likely to alter the result. Trump is going to be president.

But his raging tweets show just how thin his skin really is and how unlikely he will be as president to smoothly handle any insults or criticism from foreign leaders or opponents on Capitol Hill.

The Sunday tweet storm also helped obscure a disturbing story that broke just before Thanksgiving reporting that Trump is turning away daily briefings from national security officials. Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway explained that Trump is getting intelligence information from other sources but declined to elaborate on who those sources might be.

And Trump himself is not talking to the press. He hasn't held a news conference in four months, letting his transition process devolve into a series of leaks and extraordinarily public fights.

Conway took the unprecedented step on Sunday of publicly urging her boss not to pick Romney for secretary of state, saying Trump's supporters "feel betrayed" by consideration of the 2012 nominee, a highly respected figure in the GOP establishment.


Now Trump is reportedly meeting with retired general David Petraeus on Monday to discuss the secretary of state job. Petraeus resigned in disgrace from the CIA in 2012 after acknowledging that he shared classified information with Paula Broadwell during an extra-marital affair. Petraeus agreed to plead to a misdemeanor charge of unauthorized possession of classified information.

A Petraeus pick would come after Trump spent months on the campaign trail hammering Clinton for using a personal email account during her tenure as secretary of state, arguing that it compromised classified information. Trump, after campaigning as a champion of forgotten blue collar voters in the Rust Belt, is also stocking his administration with millionaires and billionaires.

All of this should give pause to anyone — including investors sending stocks to new highs — regarding whether Trump will be able to run a successful administration that lowers taxes, streamlines regulations, cuts great trade deals and sparks faster economic growth.

Trump's transition is a complete mess and there is no reason to assume his White House will be any different.

— Ben White is Politico's chief economic correspondent and a CNBC contributor. He also authors the daily tip sheet Politico Morning Money [politico.com/morningmoney]. Follow him on Twitter @morningmoneyben.