Wednesday, May 20, 2020


The president is attempting to use extortion to prevent vote-by-mail.
President Donald Trump mischaracterized Michigan's absentee ballot policies on Wednesday while threatening federal funding to the state if election officials there do not retreat from measures meant to facilitate mail-in voting....

“Breaking: Michigan sends absentee ballots to 7.7 million people ahead of Primaries and the General Election,” Trump tweeted. “This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue Secretary of State. I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!” ...

The president's tweets inaccurately described a recent policy change in Michigan, where Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, announced Tuesday that all of the state’s 7.7 million registered voters would be mailed absentee ballot applications for the August down-ballot primaries and November general election — not a ballot directly....

The president similarly threatened Nevada later Wednesday morning, tweeting: “State of Nevada ‘thinks’ that they can send out illegal vote by mail ballots, creating a great Voter Fraud scenario for the State and the U.S. They can’t! If they do, ‘I think’ I can hold up funds to the State. Sorry, but you must not cheat in elections.”
So we're talking again about Trump's likely reaction to an election in November that doesn't turn out the way he wants it to. Jamelle Bouie reassures us in a Twitter thread that, yes, Trump might threaten not to accept a loss, but there's not much he can do.

I think that's the wrong way of framing the issue. It won't be just Trump contesting the election results between November and January -- it'll be his entire support network, starting with Fox News. Fox didn't seriously argue for the overturning of election results in 2008 and 2012, but this time will probably be different. The right regards vote-by-mail -- at least in contested states won by Democrats -- as voter fraud by definition. A Democratic win in any vote-by-mail swing state will automatically be declared fraudulent.

If Trump wins Michigan or Nevada, there'll be relentless calls on Fox to challenge the Democratic electors' right to vote in the Electoral College, and those challenges will be taken seriously by Republicans at the state level. In previous years, Republicans in Washington have treated such calls as boob-bait, useful for the building of party unity against the Democrats, but not for much more. This time, I think Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, and others might insist that voter fraud allegations need to be taken very, very seriously. They'll also undoubtedly look for reasons to question Senate pickups by the Democrats.

I don't know if they can persuade much of America that the election was fraudulent. But at the very least, they can reframe the narrative so that the media begins describing Joe Biden's ascension to the presidency as accompanied by a "legitimacy crisis" -- even if, unlike Trump in 2016 and George W. Bush in 2000, Biden has won a clear victoory in both the Electoral College and the poular vote.

Bouie is right when he says that any effort by Trump to cling to power after Inauguration Day will run afoul of the Constitution. But this doesn't reassure me:

No, the Joint Chiefs wouldn't barricade the White House on Trump's orders. You know who might? The same kinds of people who stormed the Michigan state house with open-carry AR-15s. If that happens, no Republican officeholder in D.C. will be outraged -- well, maybe Mitt Romney will say it's regrettable -- and the press, including the mainstream media, will portray it as a popular uprising, rather than the an uprising stirred up by sinister right-wing influencers.

All this might still end with Joe Biden being sworn in on schedule. But everyone in official Washington will agree that he's being sworn in "under a cloud." And that alone will be a win for the right.

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