Despite US law, Trump raises specter of delaying election

"I never even thought of changing the date of the election," Trump said in April. "Why would I do that?" Today, the flailing president said the opposite.
Image: Donald Trump
US President Donald Trump departs the White House on July 11, 2020.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

As the race for the Democratic presidential nomination neared its end in April, Joe Biden made a provocative prediction about Donald Trump and the president's likely electoral antics. "Mark my words," the Delaware Democrat said, "I think he is going to try to kick back the election somehow, come up with some rationale why it can't be held."

A few days later, a reporter asked Trump for a response. "I never even thought of changing the date of the election," the Republican replied. "Why would I do that? November 3rd. It’s a good number. No, I look forward to that election." The president added that the very idea of him seeking an election delay was "just made-up propaganda."

Yeah, about that...

President Donald Trump on Thursday questioned whether the 2020 presidential election should potentially be postponed, claiming it could be ripe for fraud. “With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE [and] FRAUDULENT Election in history," Trump tweeted. "It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”

Right off the bat, the context for this is highly relevant. I don't generally subscribe to the idea that Trump is trying to distract from x by pushing y, but it's quite likely he was watching television this morning, saw coverage of the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression, the U.S. coronavirus death toll topping 150,000, his team's failure to negotiate a new economic aid package, and his woeful standing in polls that show him likely to lose.

It was at this point that he likely started looking for ways to change the public conversation.

With this in mind, I feel like I'm being baited into writing the blog post the flailing president wants me to write.

So why am I doing it anyway? A few reasons.

First, there are probably going to be some folks who hear about this and feel genuine concern about what Trump might try to get away with. Let's make one thing clear: a president can't change the date of an election. There is no legal mechanism in the United States that makes this even remotely possible. In the event of a genuine emergency, Congress has that authority, but there's no reason to believe lawmakers would even consider such a change in the three months remaining before Election Day 2020.

Second, while I'm not concerned about Trump delaying the election, I am concerned about him refusing to accept an electoral defeat, and tweets such as the one he published this morning -- peddling a fraudulent claim about Americans planning to vote the same way he's voting -- may be part of an effort to lay the groundwork for dangerous political mischief in the fall.

And third, if the president is genuinely concerned about the integrity of his country's election process -- a big "if," to be sure -- he could stop tweeting nonsense and start working on meaningful protections that would improve the existing system. Among Trump's many options would be bolstering the U.S. Postal Service and endorsing pending legislation designed to prevent another round of foreign interference in our elections.

Trump won't take any such steps, of course, because by all appearances, he's eager to undermine confidence in his own country's system.

The challenge now is for Republican leaders to step up and make clear that they won't tolerate the president's ongoing efforts and they'll reject any White House push to delay the election. It's a challenge GOP leaders will almost certainly fail.