Opinion

A lot people have taken shots at President Donald Trump since he was elected, but on Friday, June 28, we entered uncharted territory.

Former president and elder statesman Jimmy Carter said, at a public event, “Trump didn’t actually win the election in 2016. He lost the election, and was put into office because of the Russians interfering on his behalf.”

When asked if this made President Trump an illegitimate president, he replied, “Yes.”

This makes President Carter the first former president to make such a strong statement about President Trump. As the longest-lived former president at age 94, and having engaged himself post-presidency in charitable and diplomatic work, Carter has gained wide respect and appreciation—probably more than he had during his single term in office.

Democratic candidate Carter took office in 1977 in the first presidential election following the Watergate scandal that drove Republican Richard Nixon from office. A clean and honest image helped, but in the backlash against Republicans, any Democrat might have won.

With failed attempts to tame the economy or resolve the Iran hostage crisis, and other failures and scandals (such as “Billygate,” named for the president’s brother), he lost his re-election campaign to Ronald Reagan and “Morning in America.”

Notwithstanding, Carter’s reputation was rebuilt over the succeeding years, and he appeared to have settled into the role of wise elder statesman recently.

What interference?

Unless President Carter is alluding to some previously unknown evidence, he is not stating that there was interference with the actual election process. That is, there is no implication that Russian hackers broke into election computers or in any other way affected the actual number of votes tallied for the candidates in 2016.

What he was alluding to is the instances mentioned in the Mueller Report of Russian operatives planting information in social media or email in attempts to influence public opinion, or hacking the servers of political parties. Whether this type of indirect interference had any significant impact on voting is debatable, at best.

As most people know by now, the Mueller Report did not conclude that the Trump campaign colluded with any type of Russian interference.

Breaking precedent

Now we have this stunning accusation from President Carter, breaking from the precedent in which presidents generally refrain from commenting much on their successors.

Why is this happening now? Is it a coincidence that it happened a day after the two rounds of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates debating on TV?

What would motivate Carter to speak out in any fashion about President Trump? Isn’t his personal legacy long-since set? What does he have to gain by speaking out? Or might it be that he has something to lose if he does not speak out? Who is talking to the former president?

This doesn’t look good for Jimmy Carter, the institution of the presidency, or the country.

And it is more likely to hurt the Democratic Party than President Trump.