Trump’s mail-in voting falsehoods are part of a wide campaign to discredit the election
(CNN)President Donald Trump’s barrage of challenges to the reputation, structures and traditions of elections is conjuring up a contentious and potentially constitutionally critical three-month period for America’s democracy.
Trump is casting false accusations of massive fraud in mail-in voting, though has now reversed his position on the practice in must-win Florida, leaving the absurd impression it’s only fair in states with Republican governors.
“I’m doing our country a big favor by bringing it up, and you know, from a common sense standpoint, if you look at it just out of common sense and pure basic beautiful intelligence — you know it can’t work,” Trump said Wednesday.
Trump has baselessly claimed that the result of the November 3 vote will not be known for “years” — apparently seeking to discredit in advance an election that polls suggest he is currently losing to Democrat Joe Biden.
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His campaign has now also initiated a new attempt to wring advantage from the customary arrangements for three presidential debates. It wants a fourth encounter added and for the clashes to start before the scheduled date of September 29, to take into account early voting that starts in some key states six weeks before the election.
“Move the First Debate up,” Trump tweeted on Thursday morning.
This request makes a fair point and is well within traditional parameters of jockeying for position over debates conducted by past presidential campaigns. But Trump’s comment in his tweet that the debates are a “public service” is undermined by his campaign’s evidence-free claims that Biden is running away from debating him at all. And the campaign also submitted a list of potential moderators, including Fox News hosts, conservative commentators who’ve given him easy interviews, and opinion journalists who have published work supportive of his presidency.
Now the President says he may deliver his speech to the virtual Republican National Convention from the South Lawn of the White House, obliterating the tradition of presidents seeking to safeguard their office from politicization.
Some of these steps, like trying to shape the conditions of mail-in voting, are not necessarily sinister and fall more into the category of legal challenges frequently made by both parties to win advantage within the structure of elections. But others come across as the actions of a campaign that believes its own claims it is winning.
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Demanding more debates — as Trump is doing — is a time-honored tactic of a trailing candidate needing a game-changer. The upshot of Trump’s complaints on mail-in voting often appears to be an attempt to limit the number of people can vote — when they may fear showing up to a polling place during a pandemic exacerbated by his own mistakes. There is also a key attempt by the Trump campaign to lay the groundwork for legal and political challenges that could discredit Biden’s victory if he wins and to give Trump’s ego an out if voters reject him.
None of this is surprising. After all, the President made inaccurate claims of massive voter fraud in the popular vote in the election that he won in 2016.
The evidence in the impeachment trial strongly suggested that the President used his power in an attempt to coerce a foreign power into interfering in the election based on false claims of corruption against Biden.
And as President, Trump has relentlessly attacked institutions that have held him to account and countered his false narratives, including the courts, the press, US intelligence agencies and independent government watchdogs. Casting doubt on election institutions is consistent with his normal behavior.
For his entire life in business before he entered politics, Trump bent rules, laws, traditions and ethics. His willingness to do so now signals that he is prepared to do anything within his power to win the election. And it suggests that he’s also willing to drag the country through a corrosive period of legal and political brinkmanship if the election is close.
If he loses power in such circumstances, Trump’s tactics could sow a sense of grievance and disenfranchisement among his voters that would shatter his successors’ attempts to forge unity and could damage US democracy for years ahead.
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