Side effects of hydroxychloroquine include “mood changes” and “feeling nervous or irritable.” Were it not for Donald Trump’s long track record of saying insane things, one might easily conclude that his tweets Monday morning were a result of the new medication he says he’s taking.
In a rational world, the president threatening to withhold funds from states would raise alarm bells for “constitutional conservatives” who used to believe in the concept of federalism. In a rational world, there would be severe consequences for this. This threat would be grounds for criticism, condemnation, and maybe even censure.
But in a rational world, Republican leaders would have already impeached and removed him from office. Don’t hold your breath.
“Breaking: Michigan sends absentee ballots to 7.7 million people ahead of Primaries and the General Election,” Trump tweeted out of the blue on Monday. “This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue Secretary of State. I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!”
Set aside that Trump sent this Tweet as Michigan was dealing with catastrophic flooding and just note that actually, Michigan sent out applications to vote by mail, not ballots—a point that was tweeted back to Trump by the secretary of state (who noted that her Republican colleagues in Iowa, Georgia, Nebraska, and West Virginia have done the same thing).
This is not liberal spin. Consider this media report from March: “West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner [a Republican] announced that he was issuing guidance and an opportunity for funding for all county clerks to mail absentee ballot applications to every single voter.”
Not to be deterred, Trump also sent a tweet attacking Nevada, whose Republican Secretary of State announced back in March plans to conduct an all-mail primary election.
“State of Nevada ‘thinks’ that they can send out illegal vote by mail ballots, creating a great Voter Fraud scenario for the State and the U.S. They can’t! If they do, ‘I think’ I can hold up funds to the State. Sorry, but you must not cheat in elections,” Trump said.
To really understand this, it’s important to put things in context. We are in the midst of a global pandemic. It seems utterly prudent and responsible for states to avoid what happened in Wisconsin, where countless voters were forced to expose themselves to COVID-19 in order to participate in democracy.
To be sure, there are legitimate arguments against moving away from in-person voting during normal times (as I have expressed), but these are not normal times. Even if you don’t buy experts’ assurances that voter fraud is rare, sending out mail-in applications hardly constitutes voter fraud.
Indeed, the potential for voters to be disenfranchised by fear of contracting COVID-19 at the ballot box is a lot greater than the potential for someone to steal your ballot out of your mailbox.
As such, Trump’s pressuring states about supposed voter fraud feels more like an act of voter suppression by a president trailing in the polls.
I know, I know, that doesn’t sound like the Trump you know, right?
During the impeachment saga, I used to ask, “Is it really plausible that Donald Trump(!) is sincerely worried about corruption in Ukraine?” Likewise, it’s impossible to ask whether Trump is sincerely interested in the topic of voter fraud and not come to the immediate conclusion that his only possible interest could be in finding a way to seize short-term political advantage.
For someone who didn’t seem terribly concerned that Russia meddled in our elections, Trump does seem to take a surprisingly keen interest in the unlikely potential of domestic voter fraud. (His assumption, presumably, is the dubious notion that mail-in voting will hurt him, personally, but the evidence suggests this is another baseless fear.)
What isn’t nearly as baseless is the idea that there could be a second wave of coronavirus that sweeps the nation right around (you guessed it) election day. If that happens, forcing people to stand in long lines could have dramatic consequences both in terms of turnout and public health.
And what of the health of our body politic?
What we are witnessing is the logical conclusion of a presidency that has been allowed to roll over constitutional norms for years now.
When you let Trump get away with pressuring world leaders to do his bidding, is it any wonder that he would, sooner or later, get around to domestic ones?
That’s why this act should and must be met by clear defiance. Trump frequently tests our constitutional norms, and, upon meeting resistance, he sometimes backs away. How many times has a provocative tweet led to zero action?
The worst possible outcome is that state leaders will back down in response to his bluster.