For California to counter the kleptocratic, white supremacist movement that’s about to take over the White House, it needs to start treating Donald Trump more seriously, aggressively and strategically.

Our failures to confront Trump properly revealed themselves in the official response to the president-elect’s baseless and wholly dishonest allegation that there’s massive voter fraud in California, involving millions of voters.

It’s not easy to read the mind of someone as deranged as Trump, but there was method to the madness. Trump’s legitimacy is being questioned, given his loss in the popular vote. So he wanted to put California, where he lost by more than 3.5 million voters, on the defensive by airing voter fraud allegations on Twitter.

Unfortunately, our election officials took the bait. They went defensive, putting out statements and giving interviews saying, correctly, that there is no voter fraud. Secretary of State Alex Padilla took a swipe at Trump’s responsibility.

Since we live at a time when being factual and honest isn’t the path to victory, this response to Trump was the wrong approach. The defensiveness made the story bigger—and probably convinced half the conspiracy-minded country that there must be something to it. In the end, we helped Trump put California democracy under a cloud.

The better way to deal with Trump is to be firm—but less direct. Answer the allegation with a request. Something like:

Dear President-Elect Trump,

“We’re concerned that you have evidence of massive voter fraud and you haven’t shared it with us. We take even the smallest allegation of voter fraud seriously, and want to investigate it, and stop it. We haven’t certified our election results, and still have time and power to fix anything that’s wrong.

“But since you have information on voter fraud that we don’t have—since we have no reports of any such thing—you need to share it with us as soon as possible.

“What’s the nature of the fraud? How did it work? What is your evidence? Is this something that you detected in Democratic campaigns? Or were you part of something on the Republican side that you would like to share?…”

And if he doesn’t produce the evidence, the state attorney general and county prosecutors should send him subpoenas demanding it. They should go to court to force response. And if Trump offers nothing in response to subpoenas, the public should see that.

Put the onus on Trump. If he wants to make a claim, fine. He needs to back it up.

In this case, Trump wouldn’t produce evidence – he’s a liar and fabulist, and has nothing. And so the questions would go to Trump, who would be on the defensive. Did he lie? If he sees such a problem, why won’t he help people who just want to have the most honest elections possible? Or is he covering up voter fraud himself?

This should be the approach whenever he goes after California in this way. Avoid defensiveness—there’s no reason to be defensive when you’re accused by such a person.

But don’t just dismiss Trump out of hand, as tempting as that would be. He’s going to be president. Hold him accountable instead. And respond to his nonsense by saying that we’re eager to solve real problems if you have real evidence and want to work with us.

And if he won’t help solve the problem, keep asking: is he part of it?