Examining Trump’s Alternate Reality Pitch

Aside from falsely insisting that he did not lose the 2020 election, former President Donald J. Trump has peddled a related set of theories centered on one question: What would the world have looked like had he stayed in office?

Mr. Trump, in rallies and interviews, has repeatedly asserted — more than a dozen times since December, by one rough count — that three distinct events, both in the United States and abroad, are a product of the 2020 election.

“There wouldn’t have been an attack on Israel. There wouldn’t have been an attack on Ukraine. And we wouldn’t have had any inflation,” he declared during a rally in January in Las Vegas. The next month in South Carolina, he baselessly claimed that Democrats had admitted as much.

Politicians routinely entertain what-ifs, which are impossible to prove or rebut with certainty. But Mr. Trump’s suppositions underscore the ways in which he often airs questionable claims without explanation and which might not be supported by the broader context.

And unlike simply attacking an opponent’s record or making a campaign promise, such alternative realities enjoy the benefit of being untestable.

“People already grapple with how to hold elected officials accountable,” said Tabitha Bonilla, an associate professor of political science at Northwestern University who has researched campaign promises and accountability. “And what is super interesting here is that there’s no way to hold someone accountable at all, because there’s no way to measure any of this.”

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