By Peter Baker
Nothing in Constitution gives the president Donald Trump the power to delay November electionsAnd even his Republican colleagues dismissed that possibility without a second thought when he mentioned it on July 30. But that was not the objective. In the face of imminent possible defeat, the goal was to tell Americans that they should not trust their own democracy.
The idea of postponing the vote was the culmination of months of discrediting an election that, according to polls, Trump is losing by a wide margin. He has repeatedly predicted “FRAUDULENT ELECTIONS” and a “substantially fraudulent” vote and “the most corrupt election in our country’s history,” all based on false, unfounded, or exaggerated claims.
This type of language resembles that of conspiracy theorists, crackpots and defeated candidates, not that of a current resident of the White House. Never before has a sitting US president tried to undermine public faith in the electoral system like Trump has.
He has refused to commit to respecting the election results and, on the night of July 30, even after his Republican allies tore apart his poll of the electoral delay, raised the possibility of months of lawsuits to contest the results.
Trump has brought into play not only the outcome of this fall’s contest, but also the credibility of the system as a whole, according to academics and operators who generally sympathize with the president. The fact that the possibility of postponing the presidential elections is raised, an aberrational idea in the United States and reminiscent of authoritarian countries without the rule of law, runs the risk of eroding the most important ingredient of a democracy: the belief of the majority of Americans in that, whatever their obvious flaws, the outcome of the election will be essentially fair.
“It weakens people’s faith in our electoral process,” said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University who testified in favor of Trump last year during impeachment hearings. “Any constitutional system is ultimately held together by a vote of confidence. In order to continue the process, citizens must trust it. What the president is doing is sowing mistrust about the legitimacy of even holding the elections, “added the professor.
Michael J. Gerhardt, a constitutional expert at the University of North Carolina who testified against the president at the challenge hearings, said Trump’s remarks were part of a pattern of disregard for the rules that have defined the United States for generations.
“I think that in the long term there will be a lot of institutional damage and the rule of law will be greatly undermined,” he said.
Even some of Trump’s current and former advisers see his attacks on the electoral system as a reflection of fear of losing and as a transparent effort to create a narrative that explains it. Sam Nunberg, an adviser to the Trump campaign in 2016, said the president was “trying to get ahead of possible defeat,” blaming external factors such as the coronavirus.
“What President Trump does not seem to understand is that, unlike past experiences in which he was able to frame a defeat as a victory, there is no way to turn around losing a reelection as acting president and consequently affect the Republican Party Nunberg explained. “Despite what the president may believe, the vast majority of his followers are not interested in such nonsense.”
He added: “Republican voters and conservative media will ultimately feel that if you cannot defeat Joe Biden, you don’t deserve another mandate ”.
Just in April, a Republican National Committee official said former Vice President Biden was “crazy to tie up” for suggesting that Trump could try to “delay the election in some way.” However, in fact, Trump has a long history of casting doubt on election results that don’t turn out the way he wants.
When it looked like I was going to lose against Hillary Clinton in 2016, he suggested on several occasions that the elections were rigged and that he would not commit to accepting the results … until he won, no more and no less. And even after winning Electoral College, she insisted that she had also won the popular vote, because three million undocumented immigrants had allegedly voted for Clinton, a claim made to appear out of nowhere and that her own commission found no evidence.
In 2020 alone, Trump already made public comments, wrote messages on Twitter, or republished others suggesting election fraud 91 times, according to data collected for The New Yorker by Factba.se, a service that collects and analyzes data on his presidency. Going back to 2012, Factba. Counted 713 cases in which Trump made reference to electoral fraud, with a particular increase in 2016 and 2018 before the elections in which he had any interest.
Some of Trump’s allies have said they have good reason to express concern about the widespread use of postal voting because of the pandemic of coronavirusAlthough that type of vote has been cast for a long time without evidence of widespread fraud.
They also accuse Democrats of being unwilling to accept the election results when they lose, pointing to the years-long effort to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 campaign and any ties to the Trump organization.
In an interview last year with CBS News, Clinton made it clear that she viewed Trump’s election as murky.
“I think he knows he is not a legitimate president,” said Clinton.
Hillary Clinton is far from the only candidate who has lost an election and has considered her defeat unfair. If we review the first days of the republic, those who have lost the elections have questioned the legitimacy of the presidential victories.
But complaints don’t usually come from the Oval Office, especially before the elections are held. And no president in office has made a serious effort to delay his own reelection, not even Abraham Lincoln in 1864 during the Civil War or Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944 during World War II. Elections were also held as planned during the 1918 and 1968 pandemics.
Ronald C. White, a prominent Lincoln biographer, noted that the 16th President of the United States did not try to postpone the election even though he thought he was likely to lose. Instead, it made it possible for soldiers on the battlefield to cast their votes, recognizing that they could support the Democratic opponent, his former general, George B. McClellan.
“Even as the pandemic, economic collapse and racial protests have caused Trump to call himself president in wartime, Lincoln, who truly faced one, determined that the 1864 election should go ahead as a sign that the Union would go ahead, ”White said.
Jill Lepore, a Harvard University professor and author of “These Truths: A History of the United States,” said presidents have a responsibility to foster faith in democracy.
“Far from undermining public confidence in the democracy he presides over, it is the duty of every president to cultivate that confidence by guaranteeing the right to vote, condemning foreign interference in American political campaigns, promoting free and secure elections, and abiding by its results,” he said. .