Has Trump Realized That Attacking Vote by Mail Hurts Him Politically?

Now he’s arguing that the system works in Republican states but not in Democratic ones.

I wrote a piece on June 24, 2020, called “Trump Has Destroyed the GOP’s Vote-by-Mail Advantage in Florida.” On Wednesday, August 5, 2020, you got the opportunity to read the same thing in the Washington Post. At some point between these two articles, someone finally got through to Trump and made him understand his error:

As Greg Sargent notes, the campaign’s goal here is “to delegitimize vote-by-mail in states where they think it will hurt Trump, while legitimizing it in places where they think it will help him.” This is a fallback position — an effort at mitigation. As I predicted, Republican voters were not able to make fine distinctions about where mail voting is good and desirable and where it is bad and corrupt. When Trump attacked expanded mail voting in states like Michigan, it made his base reluctant to trust mail voting in states like Florida where the practice has been long established.

Rather than admit a strategic blunder or completely change course, the attempt at a solution involves promoting mail voting where there is a “great infrastructure” and “great Republican Governors” and dissuading it where it is being newly introduced by Democratic governors.

To be clear, this really was a blunder:

As of Wednesday, more than 600,000 more Democrats had requested mail ballots than Republicans, according to the University of Florida’s Michael McDonald. For comparison: in the 2018 governor’s race, Republican Ron DeSantis beat Democrat Andrew Gillum by fewer than 50,000 votes.

Similarly, a recent CNN/SSRS poll found that 59% of voters who “lean Democratic” said they would prefer to vote via mail ballot compared to just 21% of Republican-leaning voters.

When I wrote my piece in June, the Democrats’ advantage was only 302,000 voters, and I already considered that catastrophic for the president. Fortunately, he doesn’t listen to me, but he did eventually get the message after losing in every survey of Florida taken in July.

There’s a secondary play here, too, that we must consider. A lot of votes will be uncounted on election night, and as a result some states may not be called for either candidate. Trump may want to argue that the counting should stop, especially if he has a narrow lead that is likely to evaporate once all the mail votes are included. He’s preparing the ground for that argument, so this is more serious than just a laughable effort at mitigation. Biden needs to prep the battlefield in response.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com