Donald Trump’s deliberately cruel, remorselessly lethal, floundering, blundering, utterly worthless response to the COVID-19 pandemic has left him and his Republican hostages in Congress wide open to a historic electoral rout in November.
Democrats across the country, especially in places where that party traditionally fares poorly, are seeing remarkably favorable poll numbers. Even Mitch McConnell in Kentucky and Lindsey Graham in South Carolina are locked in a re-election fight for their political lives, and who would have thought we’d live long enough to see that.
If the pattern holds — which it should, because Trump is the best campaign spokesman for Democrats in the country, and he ain’t gonna stop — it’s possible that all the Democrats really need is for there to be an election in November. However, because of COVID-19, and Trump, and the generalized revulsion Republicans hold for democracy itself, that November election is growing increasingly unlikely with every passing day.
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Trump and the GOP have good reason to make a real election difficult, if not impossible. Two national polls this week — the Economist/YouGov tracking poll and a new Monmouth poll — have Joe Biden alternately holding or expanding his lead over Trump. Biden has accomplished this without leaving his house, which long-time Biden watchers might well agree is the reason for his lead. It is what it is.
In the House of Representatives, any hopes Republicans had two months ago of retaking the majority and snatching the gavel out of Speaker Pelosi’s hand have fallen to dust. According to the Cook Political Report, “The COVID-19 pandemic has all but frozen House recruitment and fundraising, shielding Democratic incumbents with big financial head starts. Now, Republicans’ path to picking up the 18 seats needed to win back the majority now looks slim to non-existent.”
The Republican majority in the Senate stands now in deep peril. Aside from the tight races McConnell and Graham find themselves in, Susan Collins of Maine is running scared, and for good reason. Voters that were already disgusted by her vacillating flim-flam votes on Justice Kavanaugh and the impeachment of Trump are now faced with her abrupt support for GOP Rep. John Ratcliffe, Trump’s absurd conspiracy theorist pick for director of national intelligence.
The latest polls have Collins’s challenger, Democrat Sara Gideon, holding a small lead. Morning Consult ranks Collins the most disliked senator in the country (with Bernie Sanders ranked the most popular, so beat that with a stick), and a coalition of women’s groups and voters have vowed to see her defeated. Collins is looking at 40 miles of bad road if she wants to save her seat, and her support of the vastly unqualified Radcliffe will do her no favors.
In Colorado, Democrat John Hickenlooper holds a double-digit lead over Republican incumbent Cory Gardner. In Montana, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock holds a 7-point lead over Republican incumbent Sen. Steve Daines. In North Carolina, Democrat Cal Cunningham holds a 9-point lead over incumbent Republican Sen. Thom Tillis. In Arizona, Democrat Mark Kelly leads incumbent Republican Sen. Martha McSally by 8 points. And in Kansas of all places, Democrat Barbara Bollier holds a slim lead over Republican nominee and serial vote thief Kris Kobach.
Of course, polls are polls are polls, and if 2016 taught us anything, it is that you can defecate in one hand and hold a polling sheet in the other, and both will stink in equal measure.
That being said: Kentucky, South Carolina, North Carolina, Maine, Arizona, Colorado, Montana and Kansas. That is blood on the moon for the Republican majority in the Senate.
Combine that with the fact that Biden is leading Trump nationally even as he campaigns in the dark like Gollum seeking his precious, and a doom-addled picture of the future begins to coalesce for the GOP. The Republicans’ decision to hitch their wagon to Trump’s mercurial star makes lemmings appear thoughtful and judicious by comparison.
Which is why Trump and his Republican allies have every intention of making the November election a practical impossibility. Trump can’t “cancel” the election, any more than he can turn off the sun by flicking a switch. He and his pals can, however, throw enough logs in the road to force voters into risking their lives in the midst of a pandemic to get to the polls and cast a ballot.
The answer is straightforward: A concerted national effort must be made to allow voters to cast ballots by mail, with widespread accessible options for people with disabilities. Several states do this for their own elections, and the process tends to be smoother than most. A vote-by-mail infrastructure, supplemented by online cloud-based voting or other fully available accommodations for those with disabilities such as blindness, will allow people to cast a ballot without risking their health at a crowded polling station.
Anthony Fauci and Centers for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield have both publicly stated that COVID will be very much present in the fall, and could combine with the annual flu season to make a dangerous situation worse. It’s essential to avoid another lethal spike in infections caused by crowds at the polling stations.
Because mail-in voting is the prudent thing to do, Trump and the Republicans are dead set against it. “Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to state wide mail-in voting. Democrats are clamoring for it,” Trump tweeted back in early April when the idea of mail-in voting first became pressing. “Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans.”
Thus, as ever, the quiet part is said aloud by the president of the United States.
“No, mail ballots, they cheat,” said Trump during the April 8 COVID-19 briefing. “OK, people cheat. Mail ballots are a very dangerous thing for this country because they are cheaters.” This, despite the fact that just the month before, Trump himself had voted by mail in the Florida primary. When pressed by reporters on why it’s acceptable for him to vote by mail but not the people, he replied, “Because I’m allowed to.”
At the center of this maelstrom of nonsense is the United States Postal Service (USPS), which would carry the main burden if a national vote-by-mail program were to take effect. The USPS was on shaky financial ground before the pandemic as the digital age has crowded into its traditional turf, and was a frequent target of Trump’s ire. Since the pandemic, he has doubled down.
Among other things, Trump wants the USPS to charge Amazon higher rates for deliveries, basically because Trump doesn’t like Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon and The Washington Post. The post office, once as apolitical an agency as you’ll find in government, found itself an unwilling pawn in Trump’s endless quest for vengeance.
The USPS has been further damaged financially by COVID-19, because there simply isn’t as much mail going out, and the service sustains itself on the postage fees it collects. The postal service is currently projecting a $13 billion shortfall in revenue. There was a bipartisan push in Congress to bail the USPS out some weeks ago, but Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin put an end to that.
At the moment, the USPS and Mnuchin are haggling over a $10 billion loan that would bolster the USPS past September. Mnuchin and Trump are demanding a variety of concessions from the Postal Workers Union, one of the last truly muscular public-sector unions left in the country. Like as not, the board that makes USPS policy will concede to at least some of Mnuchin’s demands, because the postal service will cease to exist before the end of summer without an infusion of revenue.
Without a functioning postal service, there can be no mail-in option for the November election, and without the mail-in option, that election could very easily become a deadly debacle that costs lives and robs the people of their voice.
Nothing would please Trump more, which is likely why on Wednesday afternoon he announced that Louis DeJoy, a high-dollar Republican donor and staunch Trump ally, will be named the new postmaster general. For the last two decades, postmasters rose through the ranks of the USPS before assuming the position. DeJoy will parachute in just as the USPS is at its most vulnerable, and just as its services are most desperately needed for the maintenance of democratic rule in the U.S.
At present, the House of Representatives is the only part of the federal government not controlled by Trump and the Republicans. The House’s responsibility to defend the vote and the USPS in this time of unprecedented crisis and threat is manifestly clear. “Mail-in ballots” should be on the lips of Speaker Pelosi and every House Democrat, as well as every Senate Democrat, every single day.
The republic has not faced an existential threat of this magnitude since the Civil War. Yet even in the charnel house of that bloody conflict, in the awesome darkness of 1864, Union soldiers were allowed to vote by mail. If they could do it then, we can do it now.