Is he serious? Is the mad king really suggesting that the November election should be postponed?
On the face of it, Donald Trump’s tweet Thursday calling for the U.S. election to be delayed or it would be “the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history” is nuts. It can’t be done. The Constitution forbids it. Surely, even the renegade Mr. Trump can’t cross the authoritarian threshold to such a degree.
But we can’t be certain. There may well be method in his madness.
With dozens of declarations – including during the last election – he’s been assaulting democratic tenets, seeding doubts about the legitimacy of the election. This salvo, which set tempers aflare everywhere in his besieged country, is only the latest and greatest illustration.
He is clearly laying the groundwork for having the election compromised in some way, probably not by trying to have it delayed, but more likely by declaring the vote a fraud. His followers are so rabid that they might buy in, as they have with so many of his systemic disruptions.
Mr. Trump’s provocative outburst also served as an admission that he is on the way to defeat. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be so avidly looking for an escape hatch from the scheduled vote.
Because of the fraud, he tweeted, “The election will be a great embarrassment to the USA.” More likely though, the polls suggest that voters believe the collapsing economy and the spreading pandemic will be his to own.
He made his statement, interestingly enough, minutes after a U.S. Commerce Department announcement that the country’s gross domestic product tumbled by 9.5 per cent the past three months. That happens to be the largest quarterly plunge on record.
Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell rebuked the President for his election timing threat, saying the vote will be held as scheduled. Ari Fleischer, former press secretary to George W. Bush, said “Mr. President – please don’t even pretend to mess with this. It’s a harmful idea.”
Mr. Trump’s claim that voting by mail will lead to a corrupted result has been rebuked by precedent. Five states now conduct their elections almost entirely by mail. They report very little malfeasance.
The date of the general election is set by a federal law adopted in 1845. That law would have to be changed by Congressional legislation to allow the timing to be altered. With Democrats controlling the House of Representatives, no such legislation is possible.
Even if it did happen, the delay could only be for a short period. The Constitution mandates that the new Congress must be sworn in on Jan. 3 with the new president’s term beginning Jan. 20. Legislation cannot change those dates.
It’s true that in the spring many state governments pushed back their election primary dates owing to the COVID-19 outbreak. But state laws dealing with emergencies allowed for the changes.
And the president does have emergency powers. Rick Hasen, law school professor at the University of California at Irvine, said that in a public-health crisis, for example, he could prevent voters from going to polling stations in person for safety purposes.
An even greater extreme he could try to go to, said Mr. Hasen, would be to compel state legislatures to take voting for the president away from citizens entirely in the name of public safety. The state legislatures would then select the presidential electors to the electoral college the way they did in the early days of the republic. “That would be constitutional,” Mr. Hasen told The Washington Post, “but I believe it would provoke massive social unrest.”
In the more likely scenario, according to constitutional and legal experts, Mr. Trump would refuse to accept the election verdict while commencing a legal war over the validity of the voting. That, according to Republicans such as Newt Gingrich, is entirely possible. “There will never be a peaceful transition of power” should Mr. Trump lose in his re-election bid, the President’s former confidant and lawyer Michael Cohen has said.
Indeed, this month, Fox’s Chris Wallace asked Mr. Trump whether he would accept the election verdict, and the President was non-committal. It should also be remembered that even when he won the election in 2016, he appointed a commission to investigate electoral fraud. It came up with nothing, and was disbanded.
But the stakes for Mr. Trump extend beyond the political. If he is defeated, gone is his immunity from criminal prosecution.
Joe Biden, Mr. Trump’s Democratic challenger, warned last month that “this president is going to try to steal this election.” Many thought it was far-fetched. It isn’t. It’s near-fetched. You just have to read the mad king’s lips. To avoid defeat, he’s prepared to do anything.
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