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Trump struggles with question on ensuring 'free and fair election'

"What are you doing as president to make sure there is a free and fair election?" The fact that Trump has struggled with this question isn't a good sign.
Image: People vote in the U.S. presidential election at Santa Monica City Hall
People vote in the U.S. presidential election at Santa Monica City Hall on Nov. 8, 2016 in Santa Monica, California.AFP - Getty Images

Over the weekend, Donald Trump peddled a familiar line, declaring via Twitter that his own country's upcoming presidential election "will be a fraudulent mess." Such rhetoric out of the Oval Office has become alarmingly common: two weeks ago, Trump also said the 2020 cycle will be "the greatest election disaster in history" and "catastrophic for our nation."

An obvious question hangs overhead: if the president and his White House team believe the election will be disastrous, why doesn't Team Trump take steps to avert the looming catastrophe? It's a question the president hasn't even tried to answer.

It was against this backdrop that a reporter asked Trump late last week about possible steps "to make sure there is a free and fair election." The Republican responded by complaining about parts of his country that he apparently doesn't like.

"What [Democrats] want to do -- and very -- very, very strongly what they want to do is bail out cities that are run by Democrats and have been for many years. And these cities and states have done very badly, and they desperately need money for that."

So the reporter followed up, again asking, "What are you doing as president to make sure there is a free and fair election?" This time, Trump lied about the threat of foreign interference with mail-in voting, peddling a transparently ridiculous tale that didn't answer the question.

"So, everyone talks about 'Russia, Russia, Russia.' They talk about 'China, China.' They talk about all of these different countries that come in and run our elections, which is false. But what they do -- what they don't talk about are things like very loose mail-in ballots, universal in nature, that, frankly, Russia, China, North Korea, Iran -- all of these countries that we are reading about, hearing about, and, in some cases, they're writing about, intelligence-wise -- these countries can grab those ballots or print forgeries of those ballots, and they would go out and they would have a field day."

So the White House reporter tried once again, asking, "What are you doing to make sure [the elections are] free and fair?" This time, Trump tried to answer by whining about his predecessor.

"Well, we have been very strong. Now, if you remember, President Obama was informed about Russia by the FBI in September. The election was in November. President Obama decided to do absolutely nothing about it. People don't mention that very much anymore. That's a lost fact. But he was informed very powerfully that they're going to do -- and President Obama did nothing."

This is, of course, completely wrong. It's not a "lost fact"; it's made-up nonsense.

But as important as these details are, let's not miss the forest for the trees: Trump is convinced that his own country will soon experience "the greatest election disaster in history," but when asked about his own efforts to prevent this systemic failure, the president has effectively nothing to offer.

As we recently discussed, these are not trick questions. What is he prepared to do to prevent the disaster he sees coming? 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, "a fraudulent mess" could be exploited -- either to contest the results or to serve as an excuse for defeat.

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 solutions.

This is post-policy governance at its most absurd.