Abe Lincoln didn’t do it. And he was busy trying to hold the Union together.
FDR didn’t do it. And he was leading the nation through the most violent days of the second World War.
But Donald Trump, self-styled “wartime president,” Florida resident, and long-time absentee voter, waded into territory that two of the nation’s greatest presidents avoided, musing aloud this week on whether the nonexistent threat of fraud posed by mail-in balloting might be sufficient grounds to postpone the November election.
With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2020
Congressional Republicans, briefly returning from the closet where they’d checked their spines for the last three-plus years, immediately pushed back.
While they’ve been happy to cede most of their decision-making power to the narcissistic bully at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, GOP lawmakers who know the key to holding onto their majority in the Senate and not getting skunked in the House lies with mail-in and absentee balloting, reminded the White House that only Congress has the power to change the election date.
“Never in the history of the country, through wars, depressions and the Civil War, have we ever not had a federally scheduled election on time,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in an interview with a home-state TV station, the Washington Post reported. “We’ll find a way to do that again this Nov. 3.”
Writing in the New York Law Journal, Fordham University Law School professor Jerry Goldfeder provided a similar argument, pointing to the document that Trump heedlessly swore to uphold and defend on that rainy January morning in 2017.
“The U.S. Constitution explicitly provides that a president’s term is four years, and the new or re-elected president is sworn in at noon on January 20th.” Goldfeder wrote, according to FactCheck.org. “There is no provision or precedent for a sitting president to extend his term beyond then … Congress alone has the authority to adjust this election timeline — provided there is sufficient time for either [former vice president Joe] Biden or Trump to take the oath of office at noon on Jan. 20th.”
That should render this debate a closed issue. But it’s only the latest round in an ongoing battle.
As the Post’s James Hohmann noted Friday, Trump has attacked mail-in balloting some 70 times since March, breathlessly — and incorrectly — claiming each time that it is ripe for fraud. It is also worth noting — again — that there is no difference between mail-in balloting and absentee voting.
Less than 24 hours after Trump made his suggestion, the White House denounced a similar postponement in Hong Kong, which is delaying its election for one year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Post further reported. The lack of self-awareness in the West Wing would be hilarious if it were not so patently dangerous.
Trump’s end game is the same one it’s always been: He is building the case for delegitimizing the election result if he loses to Biden in November. Current polling points that way. And with the economy foundering and the pandemic still raging out of control, Trump has struggled to make an affirmative case for his re-election.
Trump already has told Fox News’ Chris Wallace that he might not accept the results.
On Thursday, Trump said that “I want to have the election … But I also don’t want to wait for three months and find out that all the ballots are all missing and the election won’t mean anything. That’s what’s going to happen, and everyone knows it.”
He is correct on that much: It could take several harrowing days before we have a winner. And county governments all over the country are scrambling to make sure that the general election canvass will be safe and secure. That’s important because Americans overwhelmingly support expanded mail-in balloting as a safe alternative in these risky times.
But the White House has been comically unserious in its efforts to secure the election. As The Atlantic’s David A. Graham writes, if Trump was truly worried about the safety of the elections, he could “help fund efforts by states to open new polling places or better prepare for an influx of mail-in ballots. He could assist the U.S. Postal Service in preparing for a busy election.”
Instead, Trump has blustered and worked to undercut the Postal Service at every turn, appointing as postmaster general a campaign donor named Louis DeJoy, who wants to eliminate overtime for postal service employees and take other steps which will result in slower mail delivery, MarketWatch reported.
In the absence of leadership, states have moved on their own. On Friday, Pennsylvania announced it will cover the cost of postage for mail-in ballots by dipping into federal coronavirus relief funds, the Associated Press was first to report.
In 1864, as the nation tore itself in two, and Lincoln acknowledged that it was “exceedingly probable,” that he would lose to George B. McClellan, the nation still voted.
Lincoln said “the election was a necessity,” and that it was a test of whether the country was “strong enough to maintain its own existence in great emergencies,” Newsweek’s Jacob Jarvis wrote.
We’ve been tested before, Mr. President. We’ll be tested again. The nation is strong enough to go through an election this November. The only one quivering with fear is you.
John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star’s Editor-in-Chief. He’s been covering Pennsylvania politics for more than 20 years and most recently served as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Micek’s commentary is syndicated to more than 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. And he’s a regular contributor to a host of broadcast outlets in Pennsylvania and abroad.
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