Donald Trump’s suggestion that he might try to delay the election — or might not accept the result — is rapidly coming to the forefront of the presidential campaign, foreshadowing a final stretch roiled not only by the coronavirus and the economy, but by clashes over the nation’s most fundamental democratic norms.
Though Trump has no authority to move the election — an idea he floated Thursday — Democrats are already bracing for Republican challenges to absentee ballots and at vote counting on Election Day. They have good cause to be prepared: the president has repeatedly raised the prospect of a “rigged election” and recently declined to say if he’ll accept the results.
Trump’s rhetoric points increasingly to the possibility that he will dispute the outcome in a year marked by primary election administration meltdowns — a prospect that is heightened by his absolute control of state and national party machinery and an attorney general who has amplified Trump’s unsubstantiated claims about mail-in voting fraud.
“I don’t have any doubt that’s where he’s headed,” Pete Giangreco, a Democratic strategist who has worked on nine presidential campaigns, said of Trump’s effort to discredit the election. “He wants to delay the election because if they had the election today, he’d lose. The further out he gets from today, the better off he is … So, he wants more time to jerry-rig the system to somehow spit him out as the winner.”
Even before he was elected president, Trump frequently made unsubstantiated assertions about widespread voter fraud. He called for a do-over after losing the Iowa caucuses to Ted Cruz in 2016, and he made claims about “serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California” after failing to carry those states in the general election that year.
But with Trump continuing to run far behind Biden in national and swing state polls — and with the election now less than 100 days away — the Republican president’s rhetoric has thrust the notion that Trump might not accept the election results from the partisan fever swamps to center stage in the campaign debate.
Earlier this month, in an interview with Fox News, Trump declined to say if he will accept the results of the election, saying, “I have to see.” And in floating the possibility of a delay on Thursday, Trump suggested that what he was seeing so far wasn’t promising.