Throughout the afternoon on Saturday, in an effort to raise concerns among his supporters, he tweeted baseless suspicions about potential voter fraud in both mail-in ballots and in-person voting in a California special congressional election on Tuesday. His focus on vote-counting came two days after he met with political advisers to refine their strategy for mounting aggressive legal challenges to Democratic efforts to shift to vote-by-mail ballots this fall.
It was the latest evidence of how the 2020 presidential election is quietly taking shape at a time when both candidates are off the campaign trail and America is still gripped by fears about the pandemic and its alarming economic and human toll.
Obama slams Trump’s coronavirus response as ‘chaotic disaster’
Former President Barack Obama emerged, perhaps unintentionally, as a new force in shaping the Democratic case against Trump after staying quiet for many months (and impartial during the Democratic primary, even though Joe Biden was his vice president).
During a private call with former aides who worked in his administration Friday night, Obama described the Trump administration’s handling of the crisis as “an absolute chaotic disaster.” On the 30-minute call with members of the Obama Alumni Association, the former president said the pandemic had reinforced the need for strong leadership in the White House.
“This election that’s coming up — on every level — is so important because what we’re going to be battling is not just a particular individual or a political party,” Obama said on the call, which was first reported by Yahoo News, which obtained an audio recording. “What we’re fighting against is these long-term trends in which being selfish, being tribal, being divided, and seeing others as an enemy — that has become a stronger impulse in American life.”
In response to the reports, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement that Trump’s “coronavirus response has been unprecedented and saved American lives.”
“There has been a bipartisan recognition of President Trump’s leadership, and the American people have taken notice,” McEnany said.
Biden also refined his own argument against Trump on Friday when the US posted its worst jobs report in history with 14.7% unemployment. Biden is increasingly attempting to tie the Trump administration’s slow and halting response to the virus to the economic catastrophe it has created. Biden’s aggressive posture comes at a time when he is battling what he says are unfounded allegations by his former Senate aide Tara Reade, who has accused Biden of sexually assaulting her in 1993. Biden has unequivocally denied the allegation.
After the new figures came out Friday showing 20.5 million jobs lost in April, Biden issued a sharp critique of Trump’s economy — which he argues was tilted toward the rich and powerful before the pandemic — arguing that income disparity has only widened during the crisis as job losses disproportionately affect lower-income Americans. Pointing to those disparities, Biden has also tried to highlight the Republican efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act at a time when he says Americans need health care most.
“Covid is the match that lit the fire. But Donald Trump has spent the last three years stoking and kindling and undermining the core pillars of our economic strength,” Biden said during a virtual fundraiser with California Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Obama adviser David Plouffe Friday evening.
“Yes, many small businesses closed because of Covid, but the reason why many will not open is because, for the last three years Donald Trump has put the very well off and corporate America first, and has put forward plans with ‘no strings, no oversight, no accountability,’” Biden said.
Battle over ballots
Armed with an enormous war chest for the November election, Trump and his allies are pouring their efforts into voter contacts and moving their entire operation into the virtual realm. In a column on Townhall.com this past week, Trump’s political director Chris Carr noted that the GOP campaign operation has shifted its focus “from a traditional, face to face, ground operation to an entirely virtual one.”
Carr said Trump Victory, the joint field effort between Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee, now has 800 paid staffers in 23 states. They are training some 2 million volunteers through the “Trump Victory Leadership Initiative” that teaches volunteers to become organizers in their communities.
“Over the last six weeks, our team has made over 20 million voter contacts and engaged over 1 million volunteers across the country. Additionally, over 31,000 Americans have used tools like vote.gop to register to vote or receive an absentee ballot,” Carr said in his column. “The transition to a virtual campaign has been seamless.”
At the same time, Trump and his allies are marshaling their forces to challenge the growing moves by some key states to transition toward vote-by-mail systems in the midst of a pandemic, as CNN’s Abby Phillip reported Saturday. The RNC has doubled its initial spending of $10 million to fight legal battles over vote-by-mail to $20 million.
Newsom entered that debate Friday when he announced California will mail a ballot to each of the state’s 20.6 million voters as the November election approaches, to alleviate concerns about the safety of in-person voting. With his executive order, the Democratic governor made California the first state to adopt that approach to the general election during the pandemic.
Newsom said in-person voting will still occur and asked state officials to put together a plan detailing how California can do that safely.
Trump seemed to link that action by Newsom to expand voter participation to an effort by local Los Angeles County officials to expand participation in Tuesday’s special election in California’s 25th District, a key swing district that encompasses Santa Clarita and parts of the surrounding San Fernando and Antelope valleys.
Former Rep. Katie Hill, a Democrat who flipped the district in 2018, stepped down last fall amid allegations that she had improper relationships with staffers.
On Sunday, Trump reiterated his support for Republican candidate Mike Garcia, saying the former Navy fighter pilot had his “complete and total endorsement.”
The President also sought to stoke concerns about voter fraud by suggesting that a decision by Los Angeles County election officials to add an additional in-person voting center in the district — in the diverse city of Lancaster — would somehow “rig” the election to favor the Democrats.
“So in California, the Democrats, who fought like crazy to get all mail in only ballots, and succeeded, have just opened a voting booth in the most Democrat area in the State. They are trying to steal another election. It’s all rigged out there. These votes must not count. SCAM!” Trump tweeted Saturday.
A number of aspects of Trump’s tweet were factually inaccurate. Far from being safely Democratic, California’s 25th District is one of the most contested House districts in the country and there has been no credible evidence of voter fraud.
On March 20, Newsom ordered state election officials to send a vote-by-mail ballot to every voter for the May 12 special election, a step meant to encourage participation while voting was also permitted at a number of vote centers that opened for in-person voting throughout Los Angeles County.
On Friday, Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder Dean Logan announced that an additional in-person voting site would be added in Lancaster to remedy the fact that those voters had no walk-in sites in close proximity. The request to add the vote center, Logan said in a news release, came from Lancaster’s Republican Mayor R. Rex Parris.
Trump sought to sow confusion in a series of tweets, seeming to blame Newsom for a decision that was under the jurisdiction of local election officials.
“Governor @GavinNewsom of California won’t let restaurants, beaches and stores open, but he installs a voting booth system in a highly Democrat area (supposed to be mail in ballots only) because our great candidate, @MikeGarcia2020, is winning by a lot. CA25 Rigged Election!,” Trump tweeted Saturday afternoon, again mischaracterizing the political makeup of the district and Newsom’s role, and suggesting Tuesday’s election is a mail-in-ballot election — it is not.
“Turn your ballots in now and track them, watching for dishonesty,” Trump warned on Twitter last month. “Report to Law Enforcement.”
Fostering those sorts of suspicions will clearly be a long-running theme for Trump this year as he seeks to cast Democrats as a corrupt party. But his desire to police elections was yet another example of a politically-motivated distraction for the President at a time when Americans are struggling with staggering economic losses and a virus that had killed more than 78,000 people as of Saturday evening.