Trump tactic undermines confidence in vote process
WASHINGTON — It was a startling declaration about one of the pillars of American democracy, all the more so given its source.
The president of the United States last week publicly predicted without evidence that the 2020 presidential election would be “the most corrupt election in the history of our country.”
“We cannot let this happen,“Donald Trump told an audience of young supporters at a Phoenix megachurch. “They want it to happen so badly.”
Just over four months before election day, the president is escalating his efforts to cast doubt on the integrity of the vote.
It’s a wellworn tactic for Trump, who in 2016 went after the very process that ultimately put him in the White House. He first attacked the Republican primaries (“rigged and boss controlled”) and then the general election, when he accused the media and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s campaign of conspiring against him to undermine a free and fair election.
“The process is rigged. This whole election is being rigged,” he said when polls showed him trailing Clinton by double digits as he faced a flurry of sexual misconduct allegations.
Then, as now, election experts have repeatedly discredited his claims about widespread fraud in the voting process.
In a country with a history of peaceful political transition, a majorparty candidate’s efforts to delegitimize an election amounted to a striking rupture of faith in American democracy. But to do the same as president, historians say, is unprecedented.
“Never,” said presidential historian Douglas Brinkley when asked whether any past U.S. president had ever used such language. “What you’re seeing is someone who’s an autocrat or a dictator in action.”
This year, Trump has seized on efforts across the country to expand the ability of people to vote by mail and avoid crowds at the ballot. It’s a movement that was spurred by the coronavirus, which has killed more than 125,000 nationwide.
There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud through mailin voting. Trump and members of his administration have themselves repeatedly voted via absentee ballots. But that hasn’t stopped Trump from accusing Democrats of trying to “rig the election by sending out tens of millions of mailin ballots, using the China virus as the excuse for allowing people not to go to the polls.”
Trump’s complaints come as he has been lagging in both internal and public polls. The criticism is seen by some as part of a broader effort by Trump to depress turnout by making it harder for people, especially in cities, to vote safely, and to lay the groundwork for a potential challenge to the results in November if he loses. Trump and his campaign deny this.
President Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla., on June 20. Election experts have repeatedly discredited his claims about voting fraud.