Editor’s Note: David Axelrod, a senior CNN political commentator and host of “The Axe Files,” was senior adviser to President Barack Obama and chief strategist for the 2008 and 2012 Obama presidential campaigns. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. View more opinion on CNN.
The President of the United States had a busy day on Thursday.
He began by admitting on TV that he wants to block emergency funding for the US Postal Service and state election authorities because he fears voting by mail would threaten his reelection.
Then, he all but demanded his attorney general produce politically motivated indictments before the presidential election to support his baseless conspiracy theory about the origins of the Russia probe.
(The first minor indictment against a former FBI agent was announced 24 hours later.)
And at day’s end, the Birther-in-Chief stood at a White House lectern and slimily revived one of his famous canards, questioning whether Sen. Kamala Harris, the proud daughter of immigrants and born in Oakland, California, meets the constitutional standards to be Vice President. (There is no question she does.)
Another 1,500 Americans had died only the day before of Covid-19, the disease President Donald Trump has assured us is going away. Wednesday’s toll alone eclipsed all the Covid deaths to date in Japan, a country that on Monday the President falsely insinuated was doing far worse than the US.
It is Covid-19, of course, that has caused many Americans to want to vote by mail rather than risk their health and their lives in crowded polling places. Local election authorities are reporting difficulty even recruiting poll workers and election judges to run the precincts in November.
This is why congressional Democrats are insisting on emergency aid to the beleaguered Postal Service and to state and local election agencies that expect to be flooded with mail-in ballots. Their well-founded fear is that with the mail slowed, ballots won’t arrive in time to be counted, and millions of Americans will be disenfranchised.
That concern compounded Friday when, the Postal Service informed many states that they could not guarantee the timely delivery of ballots this fall.
Polls show that since the President started attacking mail-in voting, Republicans have begun to shy away from it.
The disproportionate share of voters who say they plan to vote by mail are Democrats. Problems with the delivery or counting of mail-in ballots would fall more heavily on Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, than the President. A Wisconsin poll last week showed that 81% of those who said they would vote by mail would vote for Biden. Just 14% said they would vote for Trump.
For months, the President has been loudly proclaiming, without evidence, that widespread mail-in voting would lead to “massive fraud.”
It’s a familiar rant.
In 2016, Trump dismissed his 3 million popular-vote loss to Hillary Clinton with similar nonsense. A presidential panel he commissioned to investigate found no evidence to support such assertions.
Now Trump, trailing in the polls, is pre-spinning the election results, setting up what could be a winter of litigation and turmoil centered around the counting of mail-in ballots. But state election authorities and nonpartisan experts have been clear: The risk of mail-in voting, which has been practiced in America since the Civil War, is not fraud. The risk is whether the embattled US Postal Service can deliver ballots on time.
And here, Trump seems determined to muck up the works.
A few months ago, the President installed one of his million-dollar donors, Louis DeJoy, as the new Postmaster General, and DeJoy has chosen this moment to make deep cuts, end overtime pay and fire 23 experienced top managers at the Postal Service less than a hundred days before the election.
The Postal Service has long struggled financially due to the advent of email and stiff competition from shipping companies. But the timing of these changes and the resulting slowdown in mail delivery have raised suspicions that it was intended all along.
In an interview with Fox News Business on Thursday, the President removed all mystery: “Now they need that money in order to make the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots … But if they don’t get those two items (aid to the Postal Service and election assistance for the states) that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting…”
Normally, a president would see it as his responsibility during a pandemic to do everything within his power to ensure that every eligible voter who wants to cast a ballot can do so safely
Not this President.
When CNN’s Kaitlan Collins asked him Thursday about voters who feel unsafe about voting in person, Trump brushed their concerns aside. “Well, they’re going to have to feel safe, and they will be safe, and we will make sure that they’re safe,” he said.
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Congressional leaders are pressing for a compromise with the White House on a stimulus plan that would allow for aid to the Postal Service and state and local election units. Instead, Trump is literally undermining the Postal Service to bolster his reelection chances.
If President Trump had been half as fervent about subduing Covid-19 as he is about stopping the mail-in voting that the virus has made more necessary, America would be in a far better position today.