Trump predicts 'election disaster,' does nothing to prevent it

Trump believes we'll soon see "the greatest election disaster in history." So what is he prepared to do to prevent a catastrophe?
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump participates in a roundtable discussion on donating plasma during a visit to the American Red Cross National Headquarters in Washington, on July 30, 2020.Carlos Barria / Reuters
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By Steve Benen

The White House has largely backed off Donald Trump's recent rhetoric about delaying the 2020 election, but the president isn't done warning of a looming calamity.

President Donald Trump on Friday continued to deliver warnings of chaos surrounding the use of mail-in ballots in November's election, predicting that the upcoming general election will be "the greatest election disaster in history."

The Republican added, in reference to the upcoming election, "This will be catastrophic for our nation. You'll see it. I'm always right about things like this." At the White House gathering, which lasted less than an hour, Trump described election-related developments as a looming "disaster" six times.

According to the transcript, a reporter soon after asked, "If the system is a disaster, as you say, why not commit to putting in resources to fix it?" Trump largely dodged the question, instead saying, "They’re not prepared for an onslaught of millions of ballots pouring in. They’re not prepared. They’re not prepared."

About an hour earlier, NBC News' Peter Alexander asked White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, "[I]f the president is so worried about how long it'll take to count ballots in the election, then why isn't the president and this White House doing everything it can to secure more funding for staffing and other resources to make sure that we can have a safe and proper election?"

McEnany didn't answer directly, either.

Oddly enough, Trump is brazenly lying about key details, but his broader warning isn't necessarily ridiculous. In fact, the prospect of an election disaster is alarmingly real. The U.S. Postal Service, for example, which will play a key role to play in delivering and retrieving ballots, is struggling badly as a result of measures imposed by Trump's handpicked postmaster general.

Much of the country is also dealing with a shortage of poll workers, especially among seniors who are acutely at risk for the coronavirus. What's more, because so many voters are unfamiliar with the vote-by-mail process, there's a very real threat of widespread errors, leading to ballots that go uncounted.

Election Day is exactly 13 weeks from tomorrow, and there's no shortage of experts who believe the United States simply isn't prepared to administer a fair and safe process. State officials are scrambling to deal with the logistical challenges, but time is running out.

It's against this backdrop that the sitting American president -- whose name will be on the ballot in three months -- believes the upcoming election will be "the greatest election disaster in history." All of which leads to questions Trump is wholly unprepared to answer: what is he prepared to do to prevent this disaster? Where's the White House's plan? Why are the president and his team opposed to a series of possible solutions that would make voting more secure?

The answer, of course, is that Trump sees a degree of utility to the chaotic circumstances. It's hardly a secret that the president is eager to undermine public confidence in his own country's electoral system, and with the Republican ticket likely to lose, "the greatest election disaster in history" could be exploited -- either to contest the results or to serve as an excuse for defeat.

But that doesn't necessarily change the political challenge for an ostensible national leader: Trump is warning of a looming "catastrophe," while implicitly conceding he doesn't intend to do anything to prevent it.

There's no other policy area in which this would be considered acceptable. If a category 5 hurricane were bearing down on a major American population center, a president couldn't get away with saying, "This could be the greatest natural disaster in history, but I've decided not to do anything about it." If the financial sector were poised to collapse, a president wouldn't dare say, "This could be the greatest economic disaster in history, but I'm prepared to just sit back and let it happen."

And yet, Trump believes his own country will soon see "the greatest election disaster in history," for which he has no plan, no proposals, and no solutions. By all appearances, the president simply wants to point at the looming catastrophe; he doesn't have any interest in taking steps to prevent it.

This is post-policy governance at its most absurd.