Trump hedges on vote-by-mail for all the wrong reasons

After months of condemning mail-in voting, Trump has changed his mind -- but only for one state. He has an explanation, but it's hilariously bad.
Image: Florida polling station
Voters cast their ballots for the Florida presidential primary, in Bonita Springs, Fla. on March 17, 2020.Elise Amendola / AP file
By Steve Benen

The White House has spent months waging a furious campaign against vote-by-mail systems -- even as Donald Trump and much of his team vote through the mail -- trying to convince Americans that the process is inherently untrustworthy. The president and his operation have offered no proof to substantiate the claims, because no such proof exists.

As part of the pitch, however, Team Trump has repeatedly insisted that it's perfectly comfortable with Americans casting absentee ballots through the mail. Is there a difference between postal balloting and absentee voting? Not really, but the White House has been eager -- by some measures, desperate -- to pretend otherwise.

That is, until yesterday.

"Whether you call it Vote by Mail or Absentee Voting, in Florida the election system is Safe and Secure, Tried and True," the president wrote on Twitter. He went to "encourage all" Florida voters "to request a Ballot [and] Vote by Mail!"

There's no great mystery as to what prompted the unexpected tweet. If Trump loses Florida, where mail-in voting is expected to be common in the fall, he loses the election. If Trump convinces his Florida supporters that postal balloting is an evil societal scourge, they may be less likely to cast ballots. Therefore, the president who's invested a ridiculous amount of time condemning voting by mail is suddenly encouraging his supporters to vote by mail.

Trump's tweet even conceded what the reality-based community has been saying for months: there are no meaningful differences between mail-in voting and absentee voting.

It wasn't long before reporters asked why he suddenly changed his message, but only for one state.

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he had "total confidence" in Florida's ability to administer a vote-by-mail system in November, but he cast doubt on other states' ability to deliver reliable results. "Florida has got a great Republican governor, and it had a great Republican governor," Trump said when asked by a reporter to explain why his comfort with mail-in voting did not appear to extend to other states.

Putting aside whether Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is actually "great" at his job -- a dubious assertion, to be sure -- the president's argument seemed to be that voting by mail in the Sunshine State is fine because he likes those who've recently sat in the governor's office.

Trump added, "They're so well-run. Florida is a very well-run state: low taxes, low everything. They've done a great job, really a great job."

Among the most hilarious problems with this is that Florida is not an especially well-run state, especially when it comes to election administration. Indeed, the state has been home to some notorious election debacles.

Trump may not remember this, but as recently as one election cycle ago -- the 2018 midterms -- the president was convinced that Florida's election system was a mess. Just two days after the polls closed, Trump started alleging without proof that there was "fraud" and "big corruption" in the state's elections. A day later, he lied about the discovery of "miraculous" votes, and vowed to dispatch lawyers to "expose the fraud" that did not exist in reality.

The president abandoned his bogus claims after his allies prevailed in key statewide contests. An official investigation looked for systemic fraud in Florida's 2018 balloting, but it came up empty.

That wasn't surprising. Trump was simply peddling made-up nonsense -- not unlike his belief that mail-in voting is great, but only in states he likes.