Editorial: President's duty is to build confidence, not foment doubt, in ballot box

  • President Donald Trump speaks during a visit to Texas Wednesday. On Thursday, he tweeted a suggestion that the Nov. 3 election be delayed.

    President Donald Trump speaks during a visit to Texas Wednesday. On Thursday, he tweeted a suggestion that the Nov. 3 election be delayed. Associated Press Photo

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted7/30/2020 8:07 PM

If there is any redeeming impact of President Donald Trump's suggestion Thursday that the November election be delayed, it is the near-universal response from his own party rejecting the idea.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell replied, "Never in the history of the country, through wars, depressions and the Civil War, have we ever not had a federally scheduled election on time, and we'll find a way to do that again this Nov. 3,"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also cited historical precedent and averred "we should go forward."

Even some of the president's most ardent loyalists, like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham, dismissed the notion that a safe and reliable election cannot be held as scheduled on Nov. 3, a sentiment shared by such resolutely conservative local candidates for Congress as Jim Oberweis and Jeanne Ives.

So, if the president was floating Twitter trial balloons to see if he could generate support for waiting a while to ascertain the will of the people on his re-election, he got his answer quickly and unequivocally. Even if the substantial legal and constitutional hurdles could be overcome -- including an act of Congress to change the election date and potentially a constitutional amendment to move the Jan. 3 date to swear in Congress and the Jan. 20 date to inaugurate a new president -- this is one self-serving Trump idea that is not going anywhere.

But that doesn't mean the president's Twitter appeal can be dismissed as dog-whistle irrelevance. For what is most disturbing about the tweet is its woeful -- dare one say gleeful? -- abandonment of a president's fundamental duty.

No respected authority -- including Trump's own Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which he disbanded in 2018 after it failed to find serious evidence of voter fraud -- has found reason to question the integrity of voting by mail, nor is it clear how mail-in voting differs from absentee voting, which the president's tweet deemed "good." But even if these were legitimate concerns, it is the fundamental duty of the president of the United States to ensure the reliability of the nation's most defining act.

Yet, rather than assure the country that -- in spite of the complications a global pandemic imposes -- he would work to protect the security of the ballot box and the health of the citizens who put their faith in it, President Trump mocked the former goal and abandoned entirely the latter. Elections are inherently fraudulent, he all but declared, and the government is incompetent to do anything about it without risking people's health.

Political analysts were quick to see the president's usual motives behind the tweet -- twin desires to fire up his base in the face of increasingly ominous polling results and to distract the country from depressing news on the economy. No doubt such aims come into play somewhere. But the troubling issue here isn't the president's naked politics; it's his unfortunate disavowal of his duty as a leader. Fortunately, the rest of the Republican Party seems less prone to surrender.

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