President Donald Trump is so obsessed with nonexistent voter fraud that, in a virtually unprecedented step, he’s appointed to his “election integrity” commission someone who harshly criticized him during the 2016 presidential primary. And J. Christian Adams, a PJ Media columnist and Republican election lawyer who has portrayed the president as an authoritarian business failure who duped his voters, is so eager to strip voters of their access to the ballot that he took the job.
Adams is in many ways a classic Trump nominee, with a record of vicious, racially tinged attacks on progressives and high-profile conservative media appearances. But Adams stands out in a key way -- during the Republican primary, he repeatedly criticized then-candidate Trump, highlighting his “authoritarian nature,” savaging him for “fleec[ing]” veterans charities and average Americans, and comparing his “issues-free” presidential campaign to the film Idiocracy.
In May, the White House announced the creation of the Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, a “rogue’s gallery of the country’s worst voter suppressors” with a mandate to find proof of virtually nonexistent voter fraud and issue proposals to make it harder to vote. The commission’s formation followed months of fact-free claims from Trump that he had lost the popular vote because of millions of illegal votes. Adams, who was announced last night as the newest member of the commission, will fit right in -- his selection was criticized by journalists and experts who focus on voting rights.
Trump has famously refused to appoint otherwise qualified individuals who criticized him during the presidential campaign. But during the Republican presidential primary, Adams, a supporter of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), repeatedly lashed out at Trump, portraying him as a con man and a buffoon who appealed to cultural animosity but had no solutions. Adams’ appointment suggests that either the White House is so eager to add another opponent of voting rights to the panel that officials ignored Adams’ past commentary, or there was a breakdown in the vetting process that allowed him to slip through.
Adams largely ignored Trump in his writings until late January 2016, when a narrowing Republican field left Trump as the front-runner. In a column endorsing Cruz, Adams highlighted Trump’s “bombast and authoritarian nature” and claimed that his understanding of a key issue “is a mile wide and an inch deep.” He also accused Trump of “looking through the world through the lens of race” because he said that he would have support from the African-Americans, Hispanic, and Asian-American communities.
A few weeks later, Adams issued a blistering column on “Donald Trump's Record of Business Failures and Bluster.” “Trump's business history,” Adams wrote, “reveals someone skilled at making money at the expense of other Americans while his businesses fail, and a man who will say almost anything about these failures.” Running through the litany of failed Trump businesses, he pointed out, “When [Trump] outsources jobs to China or rips off those who attended Trump University, it is American workers who bear the cost of his dealings, not Donald Trump.” He also took a shot at Trump’s propensity for relying on Ivanka, Don Jr., and Eric Trump, writing, “Instead of hiring top talent, the record shows Trump seems to prefer hiring his children.”
“Unfortunately, the real culture of Donald Trump is a culture of bombast, bluster, and serial business failure,” Adams concluded. “Perhaps this is the sort of person Americans want in the White House. Or perhaps they don’t know the sort of person Trump is.”
In a third piece in late February peppered with references to the movie Idiocracy, Adams wrote that the “Trump campaign is an issues-free zone” and that the candidate’s “policy depth reaches its limits when he says ‘things will be wonderful, great, wonderful. Wonderful and great.’” After listing a series of issues where Trump had not taken firm positions, Adams concluded, “It's almost as if Trump running for president is one big bit. He's putting us on, showing what suckers Americans have become” and “playing the country with a campaign built around insult and the hollowest of slogans and promises.”
But as the primary campaign came to a close, Adams became just another Trump-supporting sucker. This shift came in light of Trump’s fact-free attacks on elections and the possibility that he would support harsh new restrictions on voting rights. The day after the election, Adams claimed that voter fraud was a key factor preventing Trump from winning the popular vote, and he urged the Justice Department to “prioritize voter fraud prosecutions of the crimes that occurred yesterday and in early voting.” He has since been a staunch supporter of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in large part due to his believe that Sessions will “fight voter fraud.”
His apparent contempt for the president notwithstanding, Adams’ appointment makes sense given that the White House is trying to assemble voter fraud fabulists to offer proposals that restrict voting. Adams, who was hired during the Bush administration’s illegal politicization of the Justice Department, became famous in the right-wing media for his role in initiating and promoting the myth that the Obama Justice Department engaged in racially charged corruption in a 2008 voter intimidation case involving the New Black Panthers Party. After a storm of manufactured controversy, the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility reviewed the handling of the case and found no evidence to support Adams’ claims.
Adams nonetheless parlayed the attention he garnered in conservative circles for accusing the administration of the first black president of anti-white racism into a columnist gig at PJ Media, a book deal, and numerous appearances on Fox News. Along the way, he’s made a series of racially charged comments, comparing campus diversity committees to “South Africa's apartheid regime,” claiming that black majorities in some U.S. counties exhibit the same “sense of racial animus” as seen amid the “legally sanctioned terror against the white minority” in Zimbabwe during “the transition from white rule to black rule,” and accusing critics of his New Black Panthers fable of using “the same excuse” that Southern segregationists used to write off the murder of three civil rights workers in Neshoba County in 1964.
Perhaps this is the sort of person White House officials want on their commission. Or perhaps they don’t know the sort of person Adams is.