A ‘CLUMSY COVER-UP’…. At this point, looking at the Iranian election, it’s probably less important to ask whether there were irregularities, and more important to consider why Iranian officials did such a bad job executing the fraud.

Juan Cole, before conceding that his analysis is based in part on “speculation and informed guesses,” runs through some very compelling evidence that suggests the “election was stolen.” He went to describe post-election Iran as “a crime scene.”

As the real numbers started coming into the Interior Ministry late on Friday, it became clear that Mousavi was winning. Mousavi’s spokesman abroad, filmmaker Mohsen Makhbalbaf, alleges that the ministry even contacted Mousavi’s camp and said it would begin preparing the population for this victory.

The ministry must have informed Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has had a feud with Mousavi for over 30 years, who found this outcome unsupportable. And, apparently, he and other top leaders had been so confident of an Ahmadinejad win that they had made no contingency plans for what to do if he looked as though he would lose.

They therefore sent blanket instructions to the Electoral Commission to falsify the vote counts.

This clumsy cover-up then produced the incredible result of an Ahmadinejad landlside in Tabriz and Isfahan and Tehran.

The reason for which Rezaie and Karoubi had to be assigned such implausibly low totals was to make sure Ahmadinejad got over 51% of the vote and thus avoid a run-off between him and Mousavi next Friday, which would have given the Mousavi camp a chance to attempt to rally the public and forestall further tampering with the election.

This scenario accounts for all known anomalies and is consistent with what we know of the major players.

Cole predicts that the protests will, in time, fade, likely after paramilitary thugs and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards “break some heads.” Indeed, that’s already begun. The questions surrounding the election, however, undermine the legitimacy of the regime — and that’s more of an irreparable problem that grows more serious over time.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.