Trump's Unserious Plan to Steal the Election

The Trump Campaign is getting more brazen about an illegitimate and stupid plan to win, how we talk about it matters

After Donald Trump won in 2016, there was a drumbeat on Twitter against “normalizing Trump.” People were worried that his dangerous behavior, racism, and corruption would come to be seen as par for the course and the media and eventually the public would lose the capacity for outrage at his outrageous behavior.

As we enter the final days of this campaign, it’s clear that this project largely failed. Trump’s behavior and rhetoric have devolved into dangerous lunacy. He has exposed tens of thousands of his supporters to COVID while dismissing science, spreading misinformation, and ridiculing masks. His plan to win the election involves voter suppression, rigged courts, and intimidation. Yet, the response has been something I describe as “uncomfortably numb.” Everyone knows it’s wrong, but the true consequences are too grave to fully contemplate. For many political reporters, this would require taking a side — something many of them have been trained to see as the highest of crimes.

There is no doubt many in the media have gotten better about fact-checking Trump’s lies. Fewer fall for “new tone” shifts and his big promises get less and less attention. Some like CNN’s Jake Tapper and Daniel Dale pushed back aggressively this morning against Trump’s efforts to sow doubt about the election.

But the uncomfortable numbness has been on full display this weekend as the Trump campaign has seen their legitimate paths to victory foreclosed by his deep unpopularity and increasingly erratic behavior. With every additional bad poll, their attempts to steal the election have become more brazen.

Buried in a New York Times story about Trump’s closing message was the following:

Trump advisers said their best hope was if the president wins Ohio and Florida is too close to call early in the night, depriving Mr. Biden a swift victory and giving Mr. Trump the room to undermine the validity of uncounted mail-in ballots in the days after.

In other words, Trump’s campaign admitted they have no hope of winning the election fair and square, so they are planning to steal it by somehow preventing the counting of ballots. This should have been the lede of the lead story in the paper not a stray paragraph in a random story.

Jason Miller, Trump’s odiously dumb strategist, went on ABC this morning and essentially said the same thing — claiming that votes cast in accordance with the law should not count because they may hurt Trump’s prospects. There was no pushback from the interviewer at the obviously wrong statement.

All of this is treated as typical politics. As if winning by throwing out legally cast ballots is just the inverse of trying to win by getting more people to vote for you.

We need to be clear-eyed — and confront head on — the fact that the Republican Party is explicitly trying to subvert American democracy. This trend is deeply dangerous and will only get worse after this election (sorry!). But how we deal with it matters — in the short and the long term.

Over these final days, it is absolutely critical that everyone — Democrats, pundits, and reporters —- talk clearly about what Trump is trying to do, why it is wrong, and why it is unlikely to work.

The Facts

Here are some facts and context about what Trump is suggesting that was noticeably absent from some of the news coverage this weekend:

  • Votes are always counted after Election Day: The Republicans have repeatedly claimed that there is something illegitimate about votes being counted after Election Day. This happens in nearly every election in every state. Sometimes the state doesn’t finish counting on Election Night. There are also always provisional ballots that are cast by people who may have had an issue at their polling place on Election Day. Many states have counted mail ballots after Election Day for years. These votes have always been considered legitimate by Democrats and Republicans including Donald Trump in 2016. Most people stop paying attention once the media calls the election, but that doesn’t mean the votes stop being counted. The only difference in this election is that a higher percentage of the votes will be counted later in SOME states. There is nothing unusual or sketchy and it is absolutely critical that the media explains this until they are blue in the face. When a Trump flunky says otherwise, they need to be confronted in the moment. It is deeply dangerous and irresponsible to let these lies go unchallenged.

  • Votes Always Arrive After Election Day: With the help of some in the media, Trump has tried to claim there is something nefarious about votes mailed before Tuesday, but arrive afterwards. Once again, this is not a phenomenon unique to this election. During the Florida recount in 2000, there was a big question about whether late-arriving absentee ballots sent in by members of the military should count. The Bush Campaign sued to ensure they would count — members of that legal team just happened to include Supreme Court Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, and Neil Gorsuch. It’s also worth noting that Trump is trying to disenfranchise our troops by preventing these ballots from being counted — but given his poll numbers with members of the military this morally abhorrent position may help them further their goal.

Trump’s Plan is Unlikely to Work

Whenever we talk about Trump trying to steal an election, it is very important to remember the following: Donald Trump is a stupid person advised by stupid people who get the majority of their information from a stupid TV network run by stupid people.

I am very skeptical this conspiracy of dunces can pull off a coup — and you should be too. Competent criminals rarely announce their crimes in advance.

While I think Trump is unlikely to invalidate a bunch of cast votes, I do think it’s possible that if we don’t talk about his efforts correctly, he could convince some people that their vote isn’t worth casting.

I believe it’s possible to talk about what Trump is trying to do and what it says about him without creating undo panic about an unlikely outcome. Just because Trump is President doesn’t mean nuance is dead. He sees his rhetoric as intimidation, we should use it as motivation.

This is why it is so important that we continue to remind voters that they have the power — not Trump, Brett Kavanaugh, or some MAGA election official. There are more people in this country and in the battleground states that support Joe Biden than Trump. If we show up and vote, nothing else matters. Joe Biden will be elected President. Kamala Harris will be a history-making Vice President. And the Democrats will take the Senate. It’s as simple as that.

What to Do in the Final Hours

There comes a time in every campaign where the strategists, ad-makers, and communications folks have done everything they can do. The last mile of the journey is entirely in the hands of the organizers and volunteers — in your hands.

People ask me all the time about where to focus their efforts in the final days — which states to call into, which candidates to support, and to which causes to donate. The truth is there is no wrong answer to this question (other than doing nothing). Every little bit helps. With that in mind, here are a couple of ideas:

Okay, let’s go win this fucking thing.