Trump struggles to find a good reason to reject voting by mail

By Trump's own telling, when some Americans vote by mail, it's "great," but when others do the same thing, it's "corrupt." Why? Because he says so.
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An election worker sorts vote-by-mail ballots for the presidential primary at King County Elections in Renton, Washington on March 10, 2020.Jason Redmond / AFP - Getty Images file

At a White House press briefing this week, Donald Trump denounced mail-in balloting as "horrible" and "corrupt." It led a reporter to remind the president of an inconvenient detail: he voted by mail in the election cycle. Offered a chance to reconcile the contradiction, it didn't go well.

"Sure, I can vote by mail," Trump declared. "Because I'm allowed to."

Unfortunately, this did not end the debate, and at yesterday's briefing, the Republican renewed his offensive against the very idea of allowing Americans to cast ballots through the mail -- despite the fact that five states already conduct elections by mail without incident. Asked for evidence to substantiate his "fraud" claims, Trump told reporters, "I think there's a lot of evidence, but we'll provide you with some, okay? And there's evidence that's being compiled just like it's being compiled in the state of California, where they settled with Judicial Watch, saying that a million people should not have been voting."

The president's claims about the California case have already been thoroughly discredited.

But he couldn't let the subject go. Literally just a couple of minutes after the White House briefing wrapped up, Trump turned to Twitter to keep the campaign against mail-in balloting going:

"Absentee Ballots are a great way to vote for the many senior citizens, military, and others who can't get to the polls on Election Day. These ballots are very different from 100% Mail-In Voting, which is 'RIPE for FRAUD,' and shouldn't be allowed!"

Putting aside the simple fact that Trump's "fraud" allegations are clearly baseless, note the difficulty Trump is having coming up with a coherent principle. By the president's own telling, when some Americans -- including people he's inclined to like -- vote by mail, it's "great," but when other Americans do the exact same thing, it's "corrupt."

Why? Because he says so. It seems ridiculous because it is.

That said, to assume that Trump's arguments are being presented in good faith is a mistake -- in part because he's been lying about voting irregularities for years, and in part because the president has already given away the game.

Responding to something he apparently saw on Fox News, Trump tweeted yesterday morning that his party "should fight very hard when it comes to state wide mail-in voting" at least in part because it "doesn't work out well for Republicans."

And for the president and many in his party, that effectively ends the conversation. Even during a pandemic, as the CDC touts the benefits of voting by mail, Trump and his allies believe mail-in balloting "doesn't work out well for Republicans," and as such, the idea is a non-starter.

He's not even being subtle about the partisan, self-interested motivation behind the White House's position.