President Donald Trump is the warped King Midas of our time — everything he touches is politicized.
Voting by mail is no exception. As recently as Friday, he retweeted an emphatic assertion from his campaign’s account: “Mail-In Ballots will lead to MASSIVE electoral fraud and a RIGGED 2020 Election. We cannot let it happen!”
But some of his Republican allies are worried that Trump’s curse, rallying his supporters to hate what he hates and his opponents to love it, will doom his party.
“It’s very concerning for Republicans,” an anonymous “top party operative” told the Washington Post, echoed by other GOPers.
As CNN dug up, some of Trump’s nearest and dearest recorded robocalls for various Republican candidates back in the spring encouraging voters to cast ballots by mail.
“Nancy Pelosi and liberal Democrats are counting on you to sit on the sidelines this election, but you can prove them wrong,” Lara Trump, Trump’s daughter-in-law, said in an April recording before a California special congressional election. “You can safely and securely vote for Mike Garcia by returning your mail in ballot by May 12.”
Donald Trump Jr. also got in on the action.
“Don’t let us down, remember to return your ballot now,” he said in a recorded call. “Make your vote count for Republican Mike Garcia and get it in the mail by Tuesday, May 12.”
The Trumps are caught between the same rock and hard place ensnaring Republican operatives and candidates alike. If refusal to vote by mail becomes a political litmus test for the GOP, that could mean dampened turnout while Democrats send back floods of ballots. That concern is particularly weighty now, while the COVID-19 pandemic could make Republican voters uneasy about casting their ballots in person.
Some are trying to thread the needle: Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh explained to the Washington Post that the President is solely warning of absentee ballot fraud and not besmirching the vote-by-mail concept in totum.
“What the president is talking about is efforts on the Democrats’ part to weaken the integrity of our elections,” Murtaugh said.
Trump and his campaign are indifferent to the fact that virtually no elections experts lend any credence to his often-repeated myth of widespread absentee voting fraud.
Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, told TPM this spring that absentee ballot fraud is “extremely rare.”
“There is no basis for a spike in actual concern about voter fraud, assuming states get the resources they need and start planning now to make sure the elections are able to run safely and securely,” she added.
But that baseless fear may be hurting the Republican cause.
According to a Washington Post poll from May, 87 percent of Democrats and only 33 percent of Republicans said voting absentee should be made easier. In several states, Republicans are actually locked in legal battles to keep voting by mail from becoming more widespread.
And in some states’ primaries, like Virginia and Georgia, Democrats have far outpaced Republicans in casting mail-in ballots.
“It’s a legitimate question whether or not the president’s rhetoric changes voter behavior on the Republican side,” Josh Holmes, an adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), told the Washington Post. “I think there’s some evidence to suggest that it has.”