The Volokh Conspiracy

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The predictable pattern behind Trump's wiretapping claim


President Trump (Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

President Trump recently tweeted that President Barack Obama tapped Trump's phones during the campaign. According to Trump, this is a scandal like Watergate, and Obama is a "bad (or sick) guy!" The media has gone bonkers covering the tweets, offering everything from detailed discussions of wiretapping law to stories on how different politicians have reacted to the tweets and how Trump is reacting to their reactions. According to one report, Trump was pleased that the media made his accusation the dominant news story of the cycle.

I'm not sure why those tweets have drawn so much attention. It seems really predictable. As I pointed out back in October, Trump's view of events is governed by a simple rule:

Everything that breaks his way is proof that Trump is amazing. Everything that doesn't break his way is proof of powerful, corrupt forces conspiring against him. There is no room for any other explanation.

Back in October, the topic was Trump's unsupported claim that the election process was rigged. Trump expected to lose, so he offered foul play—without any basis—as the explanation.

When Trump won, the narrative of course flipped. Because everything that breaks Trump's way proves that Trump is amazing, his electoral college win became "a massive landslide victory" and the "biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan."

Trump's latest claims fit the same pattern. During the campaign, the media reported that the FBI was investigating Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server. For Trump, the ongoing investigation was considered strong evidence of Clinton's criminality. The mantra became "Lock her up!" When Clinton said she wouldn't want someone like Trump to be elected, Trump shot back, "Because you'd be in jail."

In recent weeks, we have learned that the FBI was (and apparently is) investigating possible ties between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. With Trump's campaign in the spotlight, the narrative has to flip. That investigation has to result from powerful, corrupt forces conspiring against Trump. There is no room for any other explanation. And the obvious narrative for how this could happen is that Obama illegally wiretapped Trump. It's the explanation I would expect from the King of Delegitimization.

Time will tell whether Trump's routine will wear thin on voters. But the pattern seems predictable enough.