If you’re worried about Donald Trump delaying date of the 2020 U.S. election, you’re missing the plot.
It’s not likely to happen, for a long list of legal, political and constitutional reasons.
President Trump’s real strategy is to suppress voter turnout and discredit the result any way he can, because that’s his best hope for holding on to power.
Trump posed the idea of delaying the election after suggesting that it’s too dangerous to vote in-person during the pandemic, while falsely claiming mail-in ballots are susceptible to widespread fraud.
The co-founder of the pro-Trump Federalist Society, Steven Calabresi, called the comments “unconstitutional,” “fascistic,” and “grounds for the president’s immediate impeachment … and removal from office.”
So no, a delay is not what Trump is really after.
Instead, he’s focused on doing anything he can to cast aspersions on the legitimacy of the electoral process.
“He’s preparing for every eventuality simultaneously,” warns Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, about possible scenarios for the Nov. 3 vote. “He’s setting up the premise for calling the election illegitimate and then trying to remain in office after Jan. 20 by tying it up in the courts.”
Sabato sees different scenarios based on the margin of a win or loss for Trump.
A landslide win for Joe Biden would leave Trump with little choice but to leave office. But if Trump were to lose by only a narrow margin, “we’re probably in trouble,” says Sabato, “because Trump is going to insist that there was fraud.”
Unless Trump’s approval numbers change drastically, a narrow Biden win might be the best scenario that he can hope for.
Biden currently has a double-digit lead in national polls, and is ahead of Trump in the battleground states that will decide the election. Even reliably Republican Texas is not currently a sure bet for the president.
Trump also claimed that election results must be known on Election Day — a reference to the fact that it takes extra time to count mail-in ballots, and perhaps in an attempt to delegitimize any results that aren’t known on Nov. 3.
This is what Trump does.
When he sees something he doesn’t like — a news story, a poll, or an election result — he claims it’s fake.
He even lays the groundwork for his claims in advance of the outcome.
In 2016, Trump started warning about the threat of voter fraud, long before election day, claiming the system was “rigged” against him.
After he won the presidency, but lost the popular vote, Trump falsely claimed that 3 to 5 million people voted illegally. His own voter fraud commission found no evidence to support those baseless claims.
This time around he’s falsely claiming that mail-in balloting is the problem, knowing that in the middle of a pandemic, millions of voters will see it as their safest option.
“Mail-in voting is absolutely safe and secure,” says Sabato, calling the idea of widespread fraud “laughable.”
“There would be as many problems on his side as that would be on the Democratic side if there were fraud in substantial numbers,” he says.
Sometimes sowing doubt is all it takes.
“It’s undermining of the idea that your vote is going to be counted in any way, shape or form,” says Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, a professor of constitutional law at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, suggesting that a loss of faith in the process will cause some people to skip voting entirely.
“There are so many acts of voter suppression right now. It’s hard to keep up with all of them,” she warns.
Trump’s actions give away the plot, as much as his inaction.
He claims to be deeply worried about the threat of voter fraud, and yet he has taken no measurable steps to improve the safety or security of the current options for voting.
When Congress approved $400 million to help fund voting by mail as part of the first Coronavirus stimulus bill — a fraction of what Democrats had asked for — Trump complained.
“The things they had in (the package) were crazy,” he said, on Fox News. “They had things — levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
That was in March, long before Trump’s approval rating had tanked, and before Biden had surged to a formidable lead in the polls.
It was as clear an admission as any that the president has no interest in making it easier for Americans to vote — because he fears they’ll vote against him, no matter the date of the election.
Jackson Proskow is Washington Bureau Chief for Global National.