If you are a Democrat watching the polls this weekend and seeing millions of voters standing in line to vote in unprecedented numbers, you should start to feel pretty good about this election. Joe Biden has somewhere around an 8- to 10-point lead nationally and is either within striking distance or ahead in the battleground states, along with a few others that nobody thought would be on the board. If this were a normal election, I think Democrats would be feeling optimistic right now.
But they're not, and there's good reason for it. And that reason is not just the semi-joking "2016 PTSD" which everyone says was so damaging that the nervous Nellies can't allow themselves to look at data rationally. I'm sure there's a bit of that. I too am having flashbacks of that awful night when I saw Florida called for Trump and then sat there while one battleground state after another went his way. It was a nightmare I won't soon forget.
But the real reason Democrats are having massive anxiety attacks is that Trump has made clear that he has no intention of accepting the election results if they don't go his way. He and his henchmen plan to follow through with their plan to contest absentee mail-in ballots that received after Election Day — and possibly, if Trump is to be believed, contest the idea that ballots can even be counted after Election Day.
Speaking of the recent decision to allow mail-in ballots that arrive after the election to be counted in Pennsylvania, Trump said, "I don't know if that's gonna be changed ..." In the case he's complaining about, the Supreme Court merely agreed not to make a hasty decision before the election, pointedly leaving the issue hanging to such an extent that the state has told local election officials to set aside any ballots that arrive after Election Day, in case they will have to be discarded.
Jonathan Swan at Axios reported on Sunday that "Trump has told confidants he'll declare victory on Tuesday night if it looks like he's 'ahead.'" Evidently, this isn't just Trump running his mouth at his rallies, and his team has been strategizing this seriously for several months. His top lieutenant Jason Miller appeared on ABC's "This Week" and explained their logic:
According to Swan, Trump's campaign is particularly focused on Pennsylvania because his brain trust expects that he may be ahead in the election night tally, and Trump's discussion suggests that's where they plan to make their stand. But as Trump seemed to acknowledge in his "chopper talk" on Sunday, the polls show a close race in a number of other states that Trump will need to win as well, meaning they could try to contest the results in states like Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida, and possibly even Ohio and Iowa. They seem prepared to do all of that if that's what it takes.
Ben Ginsberg is perhaps the most famous Republican election lawyer of the past 40 years — and he's appalled. He wrote in the Washington Post on Sunday that Trump's campaign is floundering and "his only solution has been to launch an all-out, multimillion-dollar effort to disenfranchise voters" which he calls "un-American." Moreover, speaking as someone with vast experience in the field litigating cases for GOP candidates, Ginsberg declares:
Proof of systematic [voter] fraud has become the Loch Ness Monster of the Republican Party. People have spent a lot of time looking for it, but it doesn't exist.
Donald Trump, of course, doesn't listen to experts unless they tell him what he wants to hear. Neither do his followers, who have watched the election campaign unfold on Fox News, which tells them that Trump is winning. As CNN's Brian Stelter wrote in his newsletter, this is an important component of Trump's plan:
Fox's coverage is one of the reasons why Trump's base might believe that any Biden victory is a fraud, a crime, a hoax. For all the talk of anxious Democrats refusing to believe the polls, there are lots of aggrieved Republicans who feel the same way, due to distorted right-wing media coverage. That's the Fox factor ...
Trump said in his comments on Sunday, "I think it's a terrible thing when ballots can be collected after an election. It think it's a terrible thing that states are allowed to tabulate ballots for a long period of time after an election is over because it can only lead to one thing and that's very bad and you know what that one thing is ... and I think it's terrible that we can't know the results of an election on election night. We're gonna go in the night of, as soon as that election's over, we're going in with our lawyers."
This is, of course, absurd, but he seems to be intent upon pushing this idea that TV should project a winner and then all vote-counting should stop. It's hard to imagine even this hyper-partisan Supreme Court going along with this, even if Justice Brett Kavanaugh hinted that he was sympathetic to the idea in his opinion in a case in Wisconsin. These are the real counting deadlines, set by law:
Election Day: November 3.
Deadline for states to finish counting votes: November 5–December 8 (it varies by state).
Electoral College votes: December 14.
Congress certifies the Electoral College vote: January 6.
There is ample evidence, that at least four Supreme Court justices are willing to throw away mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day but received later, despite the fact that numerous states have long allowed such votes to be counted. It seems like a stretch, but that's likely why Trump is riling up his base to create an atmosphere of chaos and crisis. It's a not-so-subtle tactic that's worked before:
According to Politico, Trump is planning to hold rallies in swing states like Pennsylvania and North Carolina "even as election officials continue to count ballots," in order to let the president "fire off about the election to crowds." I wonder what the purpose of that might be?
None of this may come to pass, or at least not in a way that changes the outcome of the election. A lot of what Team Trump is doing can be seen as hype to get their voters out and work the refs, meaning the media, state officials and the federal judiciary. Whether Trump is able to seriously contest the election results will remain unclear until we see how the votes come in, but there's every indication that when he told some of his extremist fans to "stand by," they heard him loud and clear.
Let's hope that the results are decisive and that Trump is persuaded to behave like a mature, responsible leader for once. It would be a welcome irony if the night he loses the election is the night he finally does become a president.