President Donald Trump’s thin skin

Updated 11:54 AM EST, Wed January 25, 2017
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Story highlights

Trump claims, without evidence, that millions of people voted illegally last November

Hillary Clinton received nearly 3 million more votes than Trump, who won the election with 306 electoral votes

(CNN) —  

President Donald Trump’s refusal to let sleeping dogs lie now threatens to harm his presidency.

His revival of debunked claims that millions of illegal voters are to blame for him losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton and call for a major investigation – in essence challenging the legitimacy of his election – is in danger of overshadowing the otherwise fast start he has made in honoring campaign promises and changing America.

In two tweets, Trump on Tuesday said : “I will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and…. even, those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time). Depending on results, we will strengthen up voting procedures!”

Trump first made his claims about illegal voters after it became clear soon after November’s election that he would lose the popular vote but win the electoral college. His revived the charge in a meeting with congressional leaders on Monday night.

His spokesman, Sean Spicer, was unable to quell the controversy on Tuesday, citing “studies and evidence” as the basis for Trump’s claims – then refused to discuss or produce any such material.

“The President does believe that, I think he’s stated that before, and stated his concern of voter fraud and people voting illegally during the campaign and continues to maintain that belief based on studies and evidence people have brought to him,” Spicer said.

The reappearance of a controversy the Trump camp had thought was in the past was another sign of one of the President’s most dominant traits – an inability to accept any suggestion that he was unable to pull off a complete and total victory in any area of his life.

The self-ignited controversies in the first five days of his presidency – including one about the size of his inaugural crowds – also hints at a deeper and consuming need to be demonstrated as legitimate that has driven Trump for decades and has sometimes been an Achilles heel.

As so often, the steps Trump takes to try to satisfy his craving for respect and to be seen as a spectacular victor threaten to make that recognition ever more elusive.

In this case, his refusal to accept that he lost the popular vote fair and square, despite winning the electoral college and the presidency, threatens to detract from another far more significant story – his sweeping use of executive power to live up to campaign promises and begin to change America.

He has moved to revive the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, killed the Trans-Pacific Partnership and begun the process of taking apart Obamacare.

Next week, Trump is expected to name a Supreme Court nominee, a potential legacy-making opportunity most presidents don’t get in their first week in office.

But the revived debate about voter fraud is a sign that the off-the-cuff controversies that Trump used to his political benefit during the campaign have the capacity to actually damage him as President because they undermine the trust that is a vital commodity for every commander in chief.

A number of academic and governmental studies have found no evidence of voter fraud to back up what would be the most sensational story election in American history.

Trump’s deep desire for legitimacy is not some new character trait that has emerged from during his early days in power.

Throughout his campaign, his obsession with polls, boasts about his wealth, lavish praise for his buildings and business revealed a candidate unusually open to talking up his achievements and place in the world.

Michael D’Antonio, author of a recent book “The Truth About Trump” said the President’s obsessive desire for recognition was on display through his long climb to prominence as a business tycoon.

“He absolutely has done this for his entire life – going back to childhood when he had to tell people he was the best baseball player in New York state when baseball is something they keep records on and they can prove it’s not true. He was raised by a very demanding father and his father did not tolerate anything but complete victory and success in everything that Donald did.”

But now, Trump has finally arrived at a position where the scrutiny is intense and claims and boasts that could be put down to the braggadocio of a real estate tycoon in the business world no longer fly.

“This is the first time in his life that he has to play by rules that other people establish … (but) he doesn’t see any difference between salesmanship and being a president,” said D’Antonio, also author of a new book about Barack Obama called “A Consequential President.”

The most remarkable aspect of Trump’s desire for recognition is that while there are millions of Americans who would never vote Republican or who were appalled by Trump’s behavior on the campaign trail, official Washington has accepted him as President with little reservation. Even Bill and Hillary Clinton made a point of attending his inauguration Friday.

Notwithstanding his searing condemnation of the city’s political elites in his inaugural address, congressional leaders have already traveled to the White House to yuck it up with the new President. Republicans are consulting him as they lay out a legislative schedule. Democrats, as is normal for an opposition party shut out of power, are plotting their resistance.