Voters don’t like Donald Trump, and he knows it. Faced with historically low approval in an election year, he’s doing everything he can to make sure voters don’t vote.
Trump’s biggest obstacle in pursuit of reelection this fall is his deep unpopularity. According to FiveThirtyEight, Trump’s bad approval rating makes him the most unpopular president running for reelection since Gerald Ford, who lost his bid more than 40 years ago; and his only advantage in dealing with this widespread unpopularity might be his familiarity with it. In 2016, 3 million more Americans cast ballots for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump. But a narrow Electoral College victory ― aided by Russian voter suppression efforts and laws restricting access to the vote ― charted an illiberal path for Trump to win the White House without actually having to win more votes.
Over the past four years, Trump has been impeached, his administration has mishandled multiple disaster relief efforts ― including the coronavirus pandemic ― he ignited multiple human rights crises along the U.S.-Mexico border, he has enriched his failing businesses using tax dollars, and he is currently presiding over rapid job losses and widespread evictions across the country.
These are the markings of an unpopular president, and they are the reasons Trump is trying to ensure as few people as possible have their votes counted in November.
Attacking The U.S. Postal Service
Many more Americans than usual are expected to vote by mail in November’s elections due to coronavirus concerns, but Trump ― himself a mail-in voter ― has lobbed false attacks meant to make the practice seem ripe for “fraud.” Voter fraud — including fraud while voting by mail — is extremely rare in the United States. Trump tipped his hand during an interview in March, when he said he rejected a coronavirus stimulus bill Democrats proposed because its increased funding for vote-by-mail options, he claimed, would hurt Republicans.
“The things they had in there were crazy,” Trump said. “They had things — levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
Trump and his campaign have spent much of the year waging a war against the U.S. Postal Service. White House aides are looking into executive actions Trump could take to curb mail-in voting, Politico reported, and the Trump campaign is currently suing several states over provisions they put in place to make mail-in voting easier. Democrats in the House also allege Trump’s newly appointed postmaster general, a campaign donor, has instituted changes that “threaten the timely delivery of mail — including medicines for seniors, paychecks for workers and absentee ballots for voters — that is essential to millions of Americans.”
Many Americans have reported long delays in mail delivery over the last month, and the danger those delays could pose to their vote if they persist through the fall has already materialized. Last week, the Trump campaign filed a lawsuit in Nevada to, among other things, bar the state from counting late-arriving ballots.
In 2018, a consent decree requiring the Republican Party to gain court approval before engaging in poll-watching on Election Day was allowed to expire after nearly 40 years. Poll-watching has historically been used by racist intimidators to scare away nonwhite voters from the polls, sometimes through violence. Ahead of the 2016 elections, several white supremacists coordinated poll-watching efforts to “monitor” polls in nonwhite communities.
A court issued the original decree, signed by the Democratic and Republican national committees, in 1982 following reports that the RNC placed armed, off-duty law enforcement officers at the polls in minority neighborhoods. The purpose was to ensure the national party wasn’t deploying racist harassment tactics to suppress the vote.
After a federal judge declined to renew the decree in 2018, Republican Party officials announced plans to recruit 50,000 “poll watchers” to monitor the 2020 elections.
“For about 40 years, the Republican Party has been fighting this battle with one hand tied behind its back,” Justin Clark, a senior Trump campaign official, said at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference. “In 2020, we have a brand-new opportunity to be able to activate an Election Day operation program that’s really robust.”
A number of Democratic groups in various states have said they will assign poll watchers of their own to flag voter suppression efforts.
As the president of an economically depressed nation gripped by disease, Trump has all but given up on pursuing likability and chosen instead to ride a wave of fear and angst to reelection. Much like his 2016 campaign, his 2020 campaign relies on disinformation ― some self-generated and some from foreign sources ― concerning his opponent, himself and the state of the union. In particular, Trump has shown an eagerness to move forward with the very scheme that got him impeached: requesting and amplifying unsubstantiated, pro-Russian talking points from Ukraine depicting Joe Biden as corrupt.
Asked recently about intelligence showing Russia is trying to “denigrate” Biden to keep Trump in office, the president said, “I don’t care what anybody says,” and falsely claimed he has been “tougher” on Russia than any other president. In reality, Trump has been servile to Russian President Vladimir Putin, even refusing to mention Russia’s payments to the Taliban for the killing of U.S. soldiers during a conversation between the two leaders in late July.
Multiple Trump allies in the Senate, including Republican committee chairmen Ron Johnson and Chuck Grassley, are in contact with pro-Russian Ukrainians who have promised to leak information designed to harm Biden and help Trump at an opportune time.
Several Trump administration officials testified during the impeachment trial that pro-Russian officials were spreading disinformation to tar Biden, and intelligence officials warned lawmakers in February that Russia is interfering in the 2020 campaign to help Trump win.