Facing possible defeat, Trump threatens the integrity of the election
Dan Balz, The Washington PostSep. 26, 2020Updated: Sep. 26, 2020 8:20 a.m.Comments
Each week has brought evidence of the damage President Donald Trump has done during his nearly four years in office. According to his own words, he is not finished. This past week brought a renewed warning of a harm he could yet inflict on the integrity of elections.
The president did more than simply refuse to pledge that he would facilitate a peaceful transfer of power if he loses to former vice president Joe Biden, though that in itself was a step no previous president has taken. In doing so, he escalated his ongoing attack on mail-in ballots, seeding the ground to contest the election as rigged or fraudulent if he is not the winner and to propel the country into chaos.
Perhaps what Trump said merely reflected the mind-set of a president who knows he is running behind in his bid for a second term, one more rhetorical flailing to somehow throw the opposition off balance and to distract from the real reasons for Biden’s lead in the polls. But this close to the election, anything Trump does to question the validity of the count should be regarded as serious and treated as such.
Republicans who normally stand by idle when the president says or does something outrageous pushed back against his words – though, notably, nearly all were careful neither to rebuke nor condemn the president personally. They simply pointed to a long history of peaceful transfers from one presidency to the next and stood up for the Constitution, which is the minimum expected of elected officials who have sworn an oath to defend that document.
The president’s Republican allies in Congress, however, were not necessarily the principal audience for what he said about challenging the vote, nor are they the people whose views he cares about most. Instead, his attempt to discredit mail-in ballots as a way to challenge a possible Biden victory is aimed at rallying his own army of supporters, prepping them to respond, if necessary, with protests or perhaps worse if he challenges vote tabulations – and therefore the results – in the days after the election.
If any people believed that the president was just letting off steam when he declined to pledge a peaceful transfer of power, they can look to something White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said after FBI Director Christopher Wray had testified before a Senate committee that he knows of no evidence of “any kind of national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it’s by mail or otherwise.”
Wray’s comments were the latest in a string of statements from all kinds of election and security experts debunking Trump’s claims about mail-in ballots being rife with fraud. Meadows, however, chose to challenge the FBI director during an interview Friday on CBS’s “This Morning.” “With all due respect to Director Wray,” he said, “he has a hard time finding emails in his own FBI, let alone figuring out whether there’s any kind of voter fraud.”
That was not a chief of staff trying to retract a president’s words or clean up after a mistake. What he said in attacking Wray was meant to reinforce the message the president continues to deliver.
Or look to what White House press secretary Kayleigh McE