In anticipation of tonight’s State of the Union Address, the White House is putting it out there that the boss is going to call for all kinds of practical problem-solving bipartisanship. As Greg Sargent points out, the same people have made the same claims repeatedly in the past before big Trump speeches; they were lying then and are almost certainly lying now. Anyone who expects bipartisanship somehow to break out between now and the 2020 election has clearly been asleep for the past four years.
That is not to say, however, that we should give up on promoting ideas that might have appeal in both parties, particularly if they don’t depend on the approbation of the president. One such idea could be of urgent relevance before you know it: getting Republican as well as Democratic leaders to denounce right now any prospective challenge to the legitimacy of the 2020 election based on vague and unsubstantiated claims and theories of “voter fraud.”
As Phillip Bump noted today, not only Trump but other Republicans are getting into the comfortable habit of making up or massively embellishing illegal-voting claims:
It took just over a day for an announcement from the office of the Texas secretary of state hinting that thousands of noncitizens might have voted to make it into President Trump’s Twitter feed.
“58,000 non-citizens voted in Texas, with 95,000 non-citizens registered to vote,” Trump wrote, apparently lifting the data from an episode of “Fox & Friends.” “These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. All over the country, especially in California, voter fraud is rampant. Must be stopped. Strong voter ID!”
A bit later, he retweeted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who hyped the same numbers with an all-caps intro: “VOTER FRAUD ALERT.”
As Bump goes on to explain, the “reports” from Texas, like those from other jurisdictions in recent years, melt away into near-nothingness once they are are scrutinized. And that’s again the backdrop of years of mostly Republican-inspired investigations of alleged in-person voter fraud that never, ever, ever turn up more than a handful of violations. As recently as the month before last, first House Speaker Paul Ryan and then his successor as House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy bought into a conspiracy theory blaming GOP losses in California on voting “irregularities” such as the sinister-sounding procedure called “ballot harvesting,” which really just means letting third-parties deliver signed-and-sealed-under-oath mail ballots.
Now you could argue that Republicans complaining about late vote-counts that dried up early GOP leads in 2018 were just covering their posteriors, not making a serious challenge to the integrity of elections. I mean, if they really believed what they said, they could go to court and challenge specific outcomes based on specific evidence, if there was any, right? Trouble is, the president of the United States is not a man who operates on the basis of facts and evidence, and he’s the one whose ass is going to be directly on the line in 2020.
As you may recall, Trump repeatedly claimed, with zero evidence, that he was robbed of a 2016 popular vote plurality by “millions” of illegal votes cast by non-citizens. This was the basis for his so-called Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, led by voter-fraud fabulist and anti-immigration zealot Kris Kobach, which was dissolved after a few months mostly consumed with fights with Republican and Democratic election officials who refused to turn over sensitive personal data to this bunch of yahoos. That largely put an end to the 2016 “controversy,” but no one at the time much thought through what would have happened had Trump lost the electoral college, making the illegal voting claims far from academic.
It’s likely that responsible Republican office-holders, many of whom didn’t take Donald Trump seriously until they had to, wouldn’t have let him create a disputed election and a constitutional crisis absent clear and compelling evidence that he wasn’t just pulling these allegations out of his prejudices and the files of his sketchy white-nationalist backers. We’ll never really know. But now, after two years of falling into line with Trump and adopting his passions and fevers as their own, is it clear at all that Republican opinion-leaders, from Fox & Friends to the Capitol, would tell Trump to leave office quietly if he lost decisively in 2020 and still claimed he was robbed by swarthy rape-loving “criminal illegals” pouring across the southern border? With the Supreme Court, the U.S. Tax Code and a long-desired rollback of regulatory restrictions on corporate misbehavior in the balance? I don’t know.
This is a possibility that needs to be taken right off the table right now. That means Democrats should waste less time trying to convince Republicans to help them get Trump on a one-way ticket to Palookaville before the 2020 election and more time getting them to agree he should get on the train to retirement immediately afterward if he loses. Yes, maybe he’ll go quietly on his own, but anyone who doubts he’s capable of calling the military in to defend his continued occupation of the White House needs to read his tweets for a few days and reconsider.