Electoral Integrity Concerns, Real and Imagined
What is more concerning, speculation and war games, or the words of POTUS?
Let me start with a direct statement: of the various injuries that Donald J. Trump has inflected on our democracy, one of the most fundamental has been an ongoing attempt to undercut basic faith in our elections.
It all started back during the 2016 campaign at Trump rallies and most famously manifested during the third debate between the current occupant of the White House and his challenger, Hillary Clinton:
Mr. Trump insisted, without offering evidence, that the general election has been rigged against him, and he twice refused to say that he would accept its result.
“I will look at it at the time,” Mr. Trump said. “I will keep you in suspense.”
This continues to be his position, for example via Forbes last month: Will Trump Accept Election Result? He’ll Decide ‘In The Aftermath,’ McEnany Says.
“The President has always said he’ll see what happens and make a determination in the aftermath,” McEnany said at a press briefing when asked if Trump will accept the election result.
Trump has frequently refused to commit to accepting the election results, telling Fox News host Chris Wallace in July, “I have to see,” and that “I’m not going to just say yes.”
And, let’s not forget, that even having won the electoral vote, and hence, the White House, he still cast aspersions on the process: Trump Claims, With No Evidence, That ‘Millions of People’ Voted Illegally.
On top of all of that, Trump has repeatedly attempted to undercut the integrity of vote-by-mail. For example, via the NYT: Trump’s False Attacks on Voting by Mail Stir Broad Concern.
On Tuesday [in late June], Mr. Trump declared, without offering any evidence, that the 2020 election “will be, in my opinion, the most corrupt election in the history of our country, and we cannot let this happen.”
Mail-in ballots, he said, referring to conspiracy theories, could be stolen from carriers, counterfeited or forged by either forces inside the United States or by “foreign powers who don’t want to see Trump win.”
“There is tremendous evidence of fraud whenever you have mail-in ballots,” Mr. Trump claimed during an appearance in Arizona, a statement that has no basis in the experience of the states that give voters the option of voting by mail.
Mr. Trump has made five dozen false claims about mail balloting since April, as officials in various states began contemplating the need for expanded use of the option amid the pandemic.
And, of course, there was this whole mess from last week: Trump tries to clarify suggestion that voters cast ballots twice, which if done intentionally is illegal.
I could spend quite a bit more time detailing this issue, but situation is clear: candidate Trump, President-elect Trump, and President Trump have all clearly and relentlessly sought to undercut confidence in the US electoral system. Just like any news he doesn’t like is “fake” so, too, any electoral process or result that is not in his favor is “rigged” or “corupt.”
There is no need for it to be rigged or corrupted, rather it just has to be an outcome he doesn’t like, and broader public confidence in a system that is fueled by confidence be damned.
It is not about integrity and evidence; it is, like everything else in TrumpWorld, all about Trump.
Ask not what Trump can do for you, ask what you can do for Trump.
This is not news to anyone paying attention. However, it has seemed to have escaped the notice of some right-wing writers who find themselves quite concerned about the threat Democrats pose election integrity in November.
For example, Michael Anton’s piece at The American Mind: The Coming Coup? and David Harsanyi’s piece at The National Review: The Democrats’ Dangerous Delegitimization of the Election.
They both are highly upset, it seems, by a piece in WaPo which asked What’s the worst that could happen? From the that piece:
We wanted to know: What’s the worst thing that could happen to our country during the presidential election? President Trump has broken countless norms and ignored countless laws during his time in office, and while my colleagues and I at the Transition Integrity Project didn’t want to lie awake at night contemplating the ways the American experiment could fail, we realized that identifying the most serious risks to our democracy might be the best way to avert a November disaster. So we built a series of war games, sought out some of the most accomplished Republicans, Democrats, civil servants, media experts, pollsters and strategists around, and asked them to imagine what they’d do in a range of election and transition scenarios.
The piece details some pretty dramatic outcomes for anything other than a clear Biden win. But as anyone who has ever participated in such war gaming knows that that is not uncommon (indeed, you don’t typically war game out non-dramatic potentialities. For example, you don’t even think to war game out an election expected to run smoothly wherein all participants respect the process).
The basic conclusion:
This kind of exercise doesn’t predict the future. In fact, war-gaming seeks to forecast all the things that could go wrong — precisely to prevent them from happening in real life. And if the Transition Integrity Project’s exercises highlighted various bleak possibilities, they also suggested some ways we might, as a nation, avoid democratic collapse.
Ultimately, it is a warning about how things could go and a call to be prepared. And, I will admit, that perhaps it is a bit on the dramatic side.
Let me stress that the reason why such scenarios are under discussion is because the President of the United States has publicly, and repeatedly, cast doubt about his own respect for the system. Trump himself has raised the specter of not conceding the election while at the same time actively sowing massive doubt about the process. All of this from a man whose entire life history demonstrates a willingness to litigate everything and who is so egocentric that he would have not any compunctions against plunging the country into chaos for his own benefit.
So, gee, I wonder why people might be a tad concerned about Trump’s behavior post-election?
After all, he can’t even bring himself to say: “once the results are in, and if I have lost, of course I will concede.” Instead, it is “I have to see” in the context of rantings about corruption and rigging.
The man has repeatedly shown a willingness to state that reality isn’t what it is (he started his presidency lying about the crowd size at his inauguration, for crying out loud).
Only someone in denial (or a witting accomplish) would not be concerned.
Anton sees all of this a plan for coup:
Over the summer a story was deliberately leaked to the press of a meeting at which 100 Democratic grandees, anti-Trump former Republicans, and other ruling class apparatchiks got together (on George Soros’s dime) to “game out” various outcomes of the 2020 election. One such outcome was a clear Trump win. In that eventuality, former Bill Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, playing Biden, refused to concede, pressured states that Trump won to send Democrats to the formal Electoral College vote, and trusted that the military would take care of the rest.
First, “on George Soros’s dime” I suppose is enough not to take Anton seriouslty.
Second, “A story deliberately leaked to the press” is a weird way to describe a rather deliberate write-up in the newspaper by an organizer and participant of the event.
Third, deliberately misinterpreting war games as some kind of coup plan is intellectually dishonest.
Fourth, where’s the condemnation of Trump, whose words are the reason we are even having this discussion?
Anton tried to round out his concern with other data point, such as
Hillary Clinton declared publicly that Joe Biden should not concede the election “under any circumstances.” The old English major in me interprets the word “any” to mean “no,” “none,” “nada,” “niente,” “zero,” “zilch” “bupkis”…you get the idea.
But, it is quite clear she was talking about conceding too early. (Also: can we please stop this myth thatn conceding has legal authority?).
He goes on to outline a coup plan, making him a clear ally of Trump.
The events of the last few months may be interpreted as an attempted color revolution that failed to gain enough steam, or as a trial run for the fall. Is the Trump Administration prepared?
Once the ruling class gives word that the narrative is “Trump lost,” all the president’s social media accounts will be suspended. The T.V. channels, with the likely exception of Fox News, will refuse to cover anything he says. Count on it. He’s going to need a way to talk to the American people and he has to find the means, now.
For the rest of us, the most important thing we can do is raise awareness. If there is a conspiracy to remove President Trump from office even if he wins, they’re telling you about it precisely to get you ready for it, so that when it happens you won’t think it was a conspiracy; you’ll blame the president.
Don’t be fooled.
So, on the one hand, we have Trump’s own words and behaviors (see above) and on the other, we have a war game simulation (funded by George Soros!) and a bunch of speculation.
Don’t be fooled, indeed.
Harsanyi’s piece is not much better, but it at least sticks to ranting about the simulation.
It is an amazing, and depressing, bit of partisan reasoning to take the reams of evidence of Trump creating this problem, and then get mad at a simulation. In truth, when I first saw Harsanyi’s piece a couple of days ago it made me so angry I couldn’t muster any response other than profanity. And my anger was not because he criticized the Transition Integrity Project’s simulation, but because focusing on that activity like it was a threat to American democracy while ignoring the real damage Trump has been doing to trust in our system for over four years now is truly infuriating.
My main concern, by the way, is not that Trump will not leave office if he clearly loses. My main concern is the damage he could do if the race is close or contested in some way so that he plunges us into a legal fight and a constitutional crisis over the results.
This is not, unfortunately, an unlikely scenario, even though I think it is more probable that we see a clear Biden win.
Here’s an idea: how about we demand that our presidents don’t purposefully undermine public confidence in elections?
Here’s another: why don’t we invest more in our elections infrastructure and integrity?
And one final suggestion: how about committing to make it as easy as possible for citizens to exercise their right to vote?
These should be bipartisan positions. The fact that they are not is a major problem for the United States.
I have written a lot here, but fear that I have not said enough. Let me just state that my moat fundamental goal here is that we maintain, indeed, strengthen, our electoral process. This, to me, should be a goal regardless of partisan preferences. And it is truly chilling and angering for me to see people with large megaphones ignoring the obvious malefactor here. And, worse, playing a projection game onto their partisan adversaries.
The reality is that the rhetoric from the Democrats and their allies, by and large, has been: allow people to vote easily, and with integrity and then we can count the votes and see who wins. It has not been an attempt to sow confusion and doubt about the process.
The bottom line is this: Republicans and their allies know they can win the presidency without winning the most votes. Indeed, at the moment, that is their best shot. Further, they know that such a pathway to victory might require legal battles in close states.
Meanwhile, Democrats know that they have majority support in the country but fear either the Electoral College delivering the presidency to the popular vote losers yet again (if it happens, it will be the third time in six cycles). Or, worse, Trump capitalizing on Covid-19-created election day chaos to suppress votes via the courts in key states.
They fear the latter, because of Trump’s own words and actions.
They fear the former scenario because of 2000 and 2016 as well as the knowledge that the Republicans have only won the popular vote once in the last thirty years (2004) and yet have repeatedly won the presidency.
I have noted over and over that when an electoral system does a poor job of representing voter preference, crisis is a potential outcome. Trump’s words and actions are exacerbating the anxieties that the system itself is creating.
Hence, the problem at the moment is Trump’s words and behavior, not other people’s worries about them.
For the first time in a long time, I’m glad that U.S.A. no longer has winner-as-president, loser-as-vice-president. I mean, just think of the nightmare of Big Orangeade as Biden’s veep?
But seriously, I always knew the Republic would fall. Someday. It’s only recently that I’ve come to believe it would be in my lifetime. I’ve got to start drinking and smoking more.
I suppose Air Force officers who program all sorts of emergencies on flight simulator training, have been sabotaging their own aircraft all along.
Worse, those people wargaming an outbreak of smallpox due to a terrorist attack, were planing a pandemic all along (even if it started in China and hit Europe first).
As to the EC, I see zero probability of eliminating it or otherwise reforming it, while one party can win with the system as is. Republicans since 2000 have acquired an allergy against the popular vote, but a selective one. Popular vote majority, or even plurality, is good enough for all elections, from dog catcher to senator, but not for president.
This is not a reason to stop trying. If the system stays as is, then changing demographics will one day deliver a similar blow to the GOP (and didn’t they raise a stink that Clinton didn’t win a majority of the popular vote in 1992!). Once that happens,t he roles may be reversed.
But the one sure way of failing every time is not to try.
It occurs to me, and @Steven may have mentioned it above and I missed it, but the states most likely to be relevant – contested and theoretically within range for Trump – mostly have Democratic governors. MI, WI and PA all have Dem chief executives and Dem Secretaries of State. The exceptions are Florida and Arizona, but AZ has has a Democratic Sec. State. And we win even without AZ and FL.
So where does Trump claim to have been robbed? Even if Republicans cheat their way to wins in FL and AZ it leaves the three 2016 flukes: MI, WI and PA that might be challenged, and all are Blue-run. IMO we don’t have a national problem here, we have a three state problem. The Democratic Party should flood the zone with lawyers and poll watchers. And the three Secretaries of State should call in foreign election observers as well.
Thanks for this. As you note it has all along been Trump who has raised doubts about his accepting election results. Once again Republicans ignore the words of their own President in favor of making up accusations that Democrats might do the same as Trump. Then, and this really kills me, if you point out that Trump started this they claim that Democrats are projecting. Totally shameless.
I had a friend on social media, another programmer, who dropped lots of nice bits about programming and life, and then Trump came along. He bought into the “millions of people voted illegally” junk. He is not someone who is “poorly educated” either. He just read it in Breitbart or something and decided it must be true.
This is my big concern – practical epistemology. So many people believe stuff because the person who told them has some point of political affinity with them. I’m at a loss.
@Jay L Gischer:
People claim to believe what they want to believe, whether or not they actually believe it to be true.
It is an epistemological problem, but one of character as well. You either care about the truth or you don’t, and most people don’t.
@flat earth luddite:
It made a lot more sense when it could be imagined that the second-place candidate wouldn’t also be the last-place candidate. If you’ve got someone who’s 2nd in a general election between 10 candidates, it does make sense to place them as next-in-line. But alas, we don’t have winners and nearly-winners, but winners and losers, and the losers will happily define themselves as not merely opposition, but saboteurs.
You’d think, wouldn’t you. But, it’s pretty clearly not the goal for Republican partisans in 2020.
I find myself wondering why? I get why Republicans would wittingly call our electoral process into question in the short term. Trump is toxic to the brand and it’s the only way to maintain power they have now. But, what is the long game? Ultimately, anyone wanting to hold elected office needs the electoral process to have integrity if they want to have credibility as a representative of a constituency.
The worst part of all of this is the incredible amount of illogic and inanity coming not only from Trump himself but also from his bootlickers and toadies…the idea that all scenarios shouldn’t be examined, especially considering who is currently president, is simply stupid…
1) they can rationalize it as Trump being actually concerned with improprieties and illegalities in the election process. Things, you know, he won’t lift a finger to address if he wins.
2) But that would cost money!
3) This is actually an old problem in many democracies: all citizens are equal, but some citizens are more equal than others. You see it in the Roman Republic, with Italians having less of a say than Romans. You see it in France after the Revolution with property qualifications, and for that matter also in America. You see it in pretty much every democracy established in the XIX Century, as most current ones were to some extent, where women were not allowed to vote.
Much has been said about the stability of the US political system, of its rather simple Constitution and relatively few amendments made of it, and its long-lasting institutions.
Little is said about how outmoded and way out of date some of these are.
Consider the word “state” means an autonomous area with its own laws and government. It is not a political subdivision in a larger political entity, like a country, with only limited autonomy and subordinate to the larger entity. The latter is what state is now, the former is what the US Constitution assumes states to be.
Imagine bragging that new process, business, method,etc. you’ve devised, incorporates the state of the art developments in the field for the year 1786, and that this makes it better than the current state of the art.
Alternatively, there is always propaganda.
@Michael Reynolds: In the descriptions of the ‘Integrity Project’ that I’ve read, the governors of the states you mention (PA, WI, MI) appoint one slate of electors but the R-party controlled legislatures appoint another. This of course results in lengthy, confusing court battles during which time armed bands of partisans begin having gunfights on America’s streets and the John Roberts Court is afraid of the consequences and rushes to quiet things down by retaining the incumbent President.
Power. Cement in changes on the courts, in the regulatory agencies and in the laws, and then when they inevitably lose power, fight like mad to keep them.
Minority rule America is not a stable America, and won’t last long. The country would simply fall apart. But that’s a short-medium term problem that will resolve itself one way or another. Either political winds will shift so the electoral college represents the majority, or there will be reform or a breakup.
But long term, set the bar far to the right, reward the wealthy, disempower workers, and for the next 20 years liberals are fighting to get back to where we are now. And meanwhile, you can dump battery acid in streams.
Even if the Flyover States of America go their own way, there are enough radicalized right wingers elsewhere to hold back the Blue States of America. And it’s the blue states where the money is, no one gives a shit about the Flyover States of America.
In my family my two sibs are (frankly) right-wing nut jobs and have been for years; they were/are committed to Tea Partying/Glenn Beck and such. They are frank that they do not believe in “democracy”. I have been lectured on the wisdom of repealing the 17th Amendment (popular election of US Senators). Seriously. And the way they describe elections is ‘two wolves and one sheep voting on what’s for dinner’.
So appealing to values and goals that make obvious sense to everyone here yields nothing that would change their minds.
MR’s earlier comment advocating that the center and left simply find the resolve to defeat the far-right thoroughly and completely sounds right to me. They speak a different language.
It’s crazy to believe that Biden is planning a coup d’etat, but… what if he did?
Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that Trump disrupts the election, casts doubt on the legitimacy and then wins. And Biden reacts by dispatching Kamala Harris and the Soros Funded Black Panthers to assassinate Trump, Pence, the entire cabinet, and Mitch McConnell. Crazy, sure, and it may require the Black Panthers to dress in whiteface and flannel or camouflage to blend in with the right-wing militia groups So they can get close enough to their targets.* And then Joe Biden ascends the Lincoln Monument, pushes the statue of Lincoln off with his bare hands, and sits in his new throne declaring himself Emperor For Life Which Might Be Several Months, and demands everyone wear masks because it turns out he was in the pocket of Big Mask all along.
What would you do then?
I, for one, would take down my Biden Harris sign, but only if enough of my neighbors did, and forward David Brooks articles about the “Burkean Dilemma Of Appeasement To Center-Left Dictators To Maintain Property Values,” while mocking the Woker-Than-Thou Left who thought revolution would lead to revolutionary change.
*: They are probably training right now to blend in, learning key phrases like “Who was your favorite on Duck Dynasty?” and “God, Guns and Gays… love Him, love them, and why do they have to shove their big meaty gayness down our throats?”
It was a major critique of 19th century “liberal” states in Europe that even when they they were formally universal (or nearly so) male suffrage, that in reality they were controlled by a relatively narrow elite.
Often phrased in continental Europe as the “liberal elite” LOL: ironically with meaning very different to contemporary usage. Except that it also not infrequently had anti-semitic overtones.
Anyway, this was a criticism levelled by all sorts of “anti-establisment” groups.
Socialist, communists, sydicalists, anarchists, monarchists, catholic reactionaries, proto-fascists, “romantic” nationalists, “left republicans” etc. And the more academic “elite theory” examinations of states and parties by e.g. Pareto and Michels.
And potent because it contained a large element of truth.
The problem was the critics could be even more more power monopolising, and ultimately destructive, than the “elite” state establishments: Nazis and Bolsheviks for instance.
While the “liberals” were fatally divided between democratic meliorist socialists, reformist liberals/progressives stuck in the centre, and fearful conservatives prey to reactionary alliances.
The irony of the success of the postwar continental European political consensus is that it was based on the catastrophic failures of the “old right”, of the fascists, and of Soviet communism.
But also on the overwhelming dominance of the modified form of the “liberal elite”: the modernising, reformist, rationalist, “legalist”, “social market” groups encompassing Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, etc.
In Germany especially this dominance was legally entrenched: the hand of the state came down heavily upon “anti democrats” of both left and right.
Whereas elsewhere, radicals might still find niches in academia or fringe parties, and even some entrenched but still excluded political groups (e.g. French and Italian Communists) the “consensus” dominated; and arguably still does.
The “outsiders” were generally unable to mount viable challenges to the conservative/liberal/socialist dominance.
Now, now…how can we ever expect to talk to deplorables by disparaging them like that…
Well, I’m no expert when it comes to American politics.
But I can usually add up.
It seems fairly certain Biden can take all the states Clinton won in 2016.
Then it appears the big marginal prize with 20 votes is Pennsylvania, where local polls seem to show fairly consistent leads. So, focus a reasonable amount of time an money there, it looks like Biden should take it.
Florida is also close, and even more votes, but closer polls, and the reporting I’ve read seems to imply Republicans are well organized and dug in. So probably not wise to bet too much on that.
But given Pennsylvania, that means the Democrats just need to pick up a minimum of four more states from the upper Midwest and/or South West for victory. And again the polls indicate that is doable.
So that gives the Biden campaign a nice cluster of key target states to concentrate money and effort.
Am I making any basic errors here?
If I’m not way off the mark, to counter, Trump needs to win the “centre vote”.
But he appears hopeless at that.
His political strategies have always been “rev up the base”. And said base has been eroded by circumstances and Trump’s own behaviour to a hard core.
He has little hope of making the election about anyone other than himself.
And besides, a realistic play for the centre needs economic success.
And there is not a hope of the “real economy” recovering significantly by November.
The pandemic may ease, but it will have a massive lag impact.
There is virtually no room for a massive fiscal or monetary boost, given current tax and deficit levels, the political situation, flat global trade and interest rates close to the lower bound.
(Suppose could try “helicopter drop” money disbursal; or unilateral tariff revocation LOL)
But in any case, even if some economic strategy were available, there’s no TIME.
Unless I’m reading something radically wrong, I can see no escape for Trump from the political pit-trap he has blundered into.
What I definitely can’t decide is whether that death trap now captures the Republican Party as well.
It looks like the House goes to the Democrats, just based on polls.
But the Senate? Dunno.
And it looks like that is going to be the decisive contest of this autumn; if the Republicans can hold the Senate, they could at least limit the damage?
And I have absolutely not even an inkling of a clue about state elections at all.
President Puke vomits all over his chosen military leaders
He is truly a madman
All you have to remember is that with Trump, everything is projection. This makes perfect sense under that theory.
Any day now, I expect Trump to accuse Biden of using too much bronzer.
Regarding Trump’s seeming disdain for all those companies that make bombs and planes:
It’s my impression that Trump is encouraging NATO member countries to buy more bombs and planes from those same companies (whether the member country “needs” it or not). He has made it plain that he thinks other countries should spend more than 2% GDP, more like US that spends 3.5%.
I keep wondering, to what end? What’s the goal here? If other NATO countries spend more on their military purchases would that make the world a safer place? If other NATO countries spend more on their military purchases would the US reduce it’s spending?
Perhaps the goal is to encourage production of more bombs and planes worldwide.
Trump never has understood how NATO works.
It’s his usual thing; he picks up a trope from “conservative” from somewhere, usually in garbled for, and it gets immovably fixed in his silly head.
He can have the errors explained umpteen times, but a short time later he “resets” to his initial understanding.
In this case Trump seems to have immovably convinced himself that NATO is some sort of subscription system with it’s own budgets and charges.
More widely, some US right have been harping away for years that other countries have been “free riders” on US defence.
Often to enable “conservatives”explain away European welfare states: “well, the European’s can only afford their welfare because we are paying for their defence”
There is a limited amount of validity to the argument, but not very much.
– of course some people free ride on US power; that’s how being a hegemon works; ask the Royal Navy 1800-1900.
– Germany is determinedly averse to military spending when it can get away with it i.e. post collapse of Soviet Imperium. It can be annoying; but OTOH some other countries quite like it. Makes for a quieter neighborhood with less breakages.
– the US spend a lot of money on “big ticket” Superpower items other countries have no need for: ballistic missile subs, nuclear carriers, intercontinental heavy bombers, satellite networks, global heavy airlift, global fleet support, corps-scale amphibious assault forces, etc etc
– it’s often forgotten that from the 1940’s to the 1980’s European states quite often ran defence spending at north of 5% GDP, funded welfare systems, and still had high levels of economic growth, conservative Republican reasoning notwithstanding
– it’s also often forgotten that even today Europe as a whole has more military personnel than Russia, and a higher defence expenditure than China.
Besides all this, the assumption of some Americans that the bulk of greater European defence spending would somehow end up in US pockets is flawed.
Europe has it’s own defence companies who like a payday as much as anyone, and eminently lobby-able politicians.
Indeed, I seem to recall Gore conceding late election night in 2000 and then un-conceding when it was clear Florida was within recount margins.
Something that I’m not sure Trump also does not understand.
I’ve read some overblown claims of America’s “nuclear umbrella” in this regard. They skip over the US being a prime mover in the non-proliferation treaty, which bans most countries from pursuing nuclear weapons. But then if Germany, Italy, Greece, Holland, Belgium, etc. are to have no nukes of their own, but live close to a major nuclear power, why should they sign on? Extending the “nuclear umbrella” over Western Europe was something America did out of its own interest.
And they all make weapons, munitions, and platforms compatible with NATO standards. In short, almost al such munitions, say a particular model of a “smart” bomb, can be used by almost all fighter aircraft in NATO’s arsenal.