The most famous thing ever said by Henry Clay, a prominent pre-Civil War figure who served in both houses of Congress and in Cabinets, and who sought the presidency four times (losing on his last try, in 1844, by just 1 percent in the popular vote), was that he would “rather be right than be president.”
Without going into the complex history of Clay’s career and overlooking the likely self-serving, sour-grapes-ish nature of his quote, its plain meaning has a certain appeal to idealists. Most of us know that to be president you probably have to do some things that are less pure than the driven snow. And we’re used to politicians who, when seeking election or re-election to the presidency, say and do things to pander to this or that group, causing analysts to easily suspect impure, politically driven logic and motives.
But President Donald Trump is carrying the “suspect, impure” motives gags to previously unimagined heights, with desperate, corrupt efforts to steal a second term by methods plainly divorced from any serious claim of pure motives or any motives other than a desire to continue reveling in his own power and glory and perhaps opportunities for improper enrichment.
I refer, of course, to what has become a transparently corrupt attempt to steal a second term — not by the usual means of pandering to this or that key group of voters, but by seizing on phony logic to deprive many millions of Americans of their right to have their votes counted. First there was his ludicrous claim that vote-by-mail options that have become widely available for good and valid reasons (especially during a pandemic), are inherently corrupt. Then came his own corrupt, self-serving efforts to transparently abuse his executive powers to prevent such votes from being counted, doing this by more-blunt-than-clever tactics such as starving the U.S. Postal Service of the means of delivering the ballots in time to be counted.
Seriously, people. Whatever you think of Henry Clay’s grandiose self-compliment, DJT would obviously much rather be wrong, corruptly and amorally so, than not be president.
He’s probably never heard of Henry Clay. His idea of political trivia knowledge is that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican. He trots that out frequently, saying that “a lot of people don’t know” that Lincoln was a Republican (perhaps unaware that the Republican Party likes to call itself the “Party of Lincoln.”)
But did you expect to ever live long enough to see something as despicable, corrupt and blatant as the latest effort to simply use lies and abuse of power to disenfranchise tens of millions of qualified voters simply trying to exercise their constitutional right to vote without having to risk their lives to do so?
Other, subtler methods have eluded his control
Over the weekend, I developed a theory on why Trump might have decided to do something so blatantly illegal, improper and immoral. Because the subtler options for stealing the 2020 election have slipped out of his grasp. Even Trump can’t think Americans are stupid enough to buy his nonsense about the fraudulence of voting by mail. But the other, potential less blatant, less traceable method of stealing the election has eluded his control.
Even Trump probably would have preferred to farm out the job of stealing the election to reliable cronies, namely the governors and the top election officials of the key swing states, who might have it within their power to use subtler, more localized means of suppressing the Democratic vote.
But here’s the problem with that. The overwhelming majority of the swing states have Democratic governors and/or secretaries of state, who serve as the top election officials and who would be unlikely to cooperate with slightly subtler, more deniable kinds of cheating on Trump’s behalf. The Democratic landslide of 2018 only increased that portion.
I spent a few minutes googling up the governors and secretaries of state in the swing states, and was frankly shocked at how few Republicans came into the list. After making that list, it seemed obvious to me that the explanation for Trump’s desperate attempt to undermine no-excuses mail-in voting is that he has no other option to try to steal the election.
The big three
Start with the famous big three states that put Trump over the (electoral vote, not popular vote) top in 2016: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Trump currently trails in the polls in all three. According to the average of the most recent polls as maintained by FiveThirtyEight.com, as of Monday morning, Biden led in Pennsylvania by 6.3 percentage points, in Wisconsin by 7 and in Michigan by 7.5.
That could change; no one really knows. But one thing that won’t change by November is that all three states have Democratic governors and Democratic secretaries of state who will not be receptive to a Trump request to “do us a favor, though,” as he put it to the president of Ukraine when he was trying to get help in throwing some dirt on Joe Biden.
What leverage would he have over the Democratic governors and secretaries of those three key swing states to corrupt their elections in his favor? Not much, methinks. Where else might he look to steal some electoral votes? Let’s look at the swing states and where the likely Trump accomplices might have some sway.
The case of Minnesota
Since we’re Minnesotans, where Trump came close but lost in 2016 and trails in all recent polls, I’ll mention that we also have a Democratic governor (Tim Walz) and secretary of state (Steve Simon). DFLers held those offices in 2016, and it used to be discussed as a potential Trump pickup in 2020, although the polling generally suggests that Biden leads by 5 to 10 percentage points. As evidenced by his recent visit and upcoming, maybe Trump thinks he can flip Minnesota. I doubt it. But can you picture Trump seeking a corrupt “favor” from any combination of Walz and Simon to improve his chances of stealing our 10 electoral votes?
Keep looking at other swing states, and the pattern holds up very well, strengthened in many instances by the excellent results for Democrats in 2018 midterms.
There are very few states deemed close at this point in the 2020 race in which Republicans hold both those key offices. The only exceptions are Florida, Texas and Georgia, all of which Trump carried in 2016, all considered at least somewhat “in play” for 2020 based on recent polling.
But with Republicans holding those two offices in those states (states not exactly famous for clean elections), I don’t much doubt that Trump’s partisan allies can find a way to carry him across the finish line. (Pardon my cynicism.) The fact that Trump will even have to worry about those states will certainly not help him, because he trails in so many other states he needs.
More states in play with Democratic leadership
For example, the list of states considered in play in 2016, where Democrats currently serve as governor and chief election officer include:
- North Carolina (which Trump carried narrowly with a tad under 50 percent of the vote in 2016 and where current Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, took over in 2017, from Republican Pat McCrory, who held office in 2016, when Trump won the state). The latest FiveThirtyEight.com average of North Carolina polls shows Biden up by a little less than two points. Two points isn’t a lot. All I’m saying is that if Trump needs help to steal North Carolina, he won’t get it from the Democratic governor or secretary of state.
- Maine, which Trump lost in 2016 by just three percentage points; 538 now shows him trailing by an average of 10.4. Both of the top jobs are held by Democrats.
- Colorado, a state Trump lost to Clinton by just five and had hoped to put into play this year but where he now trails Biden by double digits in all recent polls. The governor and secretary of state are Democrats.
- Virginia, a state Trump lost by five points in 2016 but now trails by eight to 13 points in the three most recent polls as tracked by 538.com. Both key jobs held by Dems.
I could mention a few more, but the pattern is strong. Republicans have lost ground in key swing states, and do not control the governorships or secretary-of-state-ships in key states where Trump needs to win.
I obviously have a bad attitude about many aspects of Trump’s character and his presidency. I admit it. I do. I also know that a few Trump supporters read some of my pieces because they turn up in the comment thread, defending Trump, dissing me for my blasphemies or attempting to dispute the argument with others who participate in the threads.
So I am specifically hoping and requesting that some Trump supporters, intellectually honest ones who believe in some system of discussion that involves factual accuracy and logical inferences drawn from those facts, defend this latest plan to starve the U.S. Postal Service of the resources necessary to deliver mail-in ballots if they believe it can be justified as anything other than an attempt to steal the election by an abuse of power. (Or if you would rather not participate in a comment thread under this post, MinnPost welcomes original letters from readers. Submit your letter to the editor. Or submit your own full-scale essay on the topic to “Community Voices,” which features opinion pieces from a wide variety of authors and perspectives. (Submission Guidelines.))
If you decide to take me up on any of these suggestions, I urge you to avoid repeating certain Trump talking points that every respected fact-checker has found to be false. I would also recommend, perhaps with less urgency, that you not turn your opportunity to defend Trump into an opportunity to attack Joe Biden or Kamala Harris or other Democrats, as Trump usually does. I can’t tell you what to say, but my specific suggestion/request is that you focus on defending or justifying what Trump has said and done in the matters over which he has been accused of lying and or avoiding or skirting the key questions. If that’s impossible, I can’t stop you from using other approaches. But if you have any intention of persuading anyone who doesn’t already agree with you, and who sees Trump as a lying self-dealer, lies and evasions won’t get it done, in my humble opinion.
Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously included Ohio and New Hampshire in the list of states with Democratic leaders.