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How #piegate is the latest example of the Trump administration's credibility being called into question

How #piegate is the latest example of the Trump administration's credibility being called into question
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders takes reporters' questions at a news conference in the White House briefing room this month. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Did she bake the pie or not?

It’s a question only White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders can answer. It’s also a sign of where our polarizing politics have taken us in 2017.

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In a year when questions about possible Russian collusion, voter fraud and the legitimacy of a proposed travel ban have clouded President Trump’s administration, the political discourse is now — briefly — centered on a holiday culinary ritual.

On Thursday, Sanders tweeted a photo of a chocolate pecan pie with a brief message:

“I dont cook much these days, but managed this Chocolate Pecan Pie for Thanksgiving at the family farm!”

And this is where the controversy began.

Sanders’ pie was pictured against a white background, and Twitter users — many partisans on the left, but also a journalist — wanted to see the pie in a more realistic setting. In Sanders’ kitchen, perhaps, or at her dinner table.

April D. Ryan, Washington bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks, skeptically tweeted, “Show it to us on a table.”

The tweet led to the hashtag #piegate trending on Twitter for several hours Thursday and Friday. Those on the right mostly viewed the spat as minor and silly, while those on the left continued to press for legit pie proof.

Indeed, on the surface the pie matter seems trivial, but it also speaks to the credibility of an administration and a president who have faced repeated questions about truthfulness, said longtime Republican strategist John Weaver.

“At times, what we’ve found with this administration is a president, and even lower-level staffers, who are willing to lie about issues big and small.… It’s now come to the point where some are even willing to question the legitimacy of a pie,” said Weaver, who was an advisor to Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s campaign for the GOP presidential nomination.

In January the issue of crowd size came to the forefront as Trump took issue with news outlets reporting that his inauguration drew fewer people than that of President Obama’s first inauguration in 2009.

Side-by-side aerial photos of both events clearly showed more people on the National Mall in 2009. The observation was also backed up by data on Washington train ridership the mornings of both inaugurations: There were 193,000 riders this year, compared with 513,000 in 2009, according to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Even so, Sanders’ predecessor, Sean Spicer, used his first press briefing to proclaim that Trump’s inauguration “was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.” His comments drew widespread ridicule on the Internet and the talk-show circuit.

Around the time of Spicer’s comments, Trump himself said — without evidence — that between 3 million and 5 million illegal votes were cast in the 2016 presidential election. (Although Trump won the electoral college, he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes.)

Trump’s comments were castigated by election officials on both sides of the aisle, who questioned the validity of his allegations. Nationwide studies have consistently shown that voter fraud is almost nonexistent. Still, Trump has formed a voter fraud commission to explore the issue.

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“When the administration is not truthful, it causes concern,” Weaver said. “When there is a crisis, can the American people believe the Trump administration? I think some will pause, and they’ve been given reason to pause.”

Prominent Republicans on Capitol Hill have also questioned Trump’s truthfulness.

“We must never regard as normal the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals,” Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said last month while announcing he would not seek reelection. “We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country. The personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth and decency.”

In a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, 65% of Americans surveyed said they didn’t think Trump was honest and trustworthy. That figure increased from 58% in April.

The partisan divide is stark. Seventy-six percent of Republicans polled said they viewed Trump as trustworthy, compared with 23% who did not. Meanwhile, 90% of Democrats said they did not view Trump as trustworthy, while 8% did.

More recently, Trump tweeted on Friday that he was likely going to be Time magazine’s person of the year — an honor awarded to him last year.

“Time Magazine called to say that I was PROBABLY going to be named ‘Man (Person) of the Year,’ like last year, but I would have to agree to an interview and a major photo shoot. I said probably is no good and took a pass. Thanks anyway!” he tweeted.

Trump has, in the past, falsely said he holds the record for Time magazine cover appearances.

What did the magazine say about Trump’s latest comment?

“The President is incorrect about how we choose Person of the Year,” Time tweeted. “TIME does not comment on our choice until publication, which is December 6.”

As for Sanders, she had a response to Ryan, the journalist who asked to see the pie on a table: Sanders said she would bake Ryan a pie in the days ahead.

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