Have no fear, the general election will move forward

Recently, I traveled from Washington to New York City and back and found myself — for obvious reasons — contemplating the personal, societal, and political ramifications of COVID-19, or coronavirus.

I have no idea if I will be infected. Fortunately, I am in good respiratory health. I do not abuse my lungs in any unusual way, which is to say I don’t smoke cigarettes. Most of the time, I appreciate following rules, and when health officials advocated to engage in social distancing, I was happy to oblige. None of that may matter, of course, as a lot of young people are being admitted to hospitals. Still, I acknowledge that a lot more people will get sick, and I understand that, at this stage, the experts believe our shared purpose is predicated on staying home. I have not left my apartment except to go the grocery store and to walk our dog.

The 15-day quarantine is weighty but necessary, predominantly because Donald Trump and his team seriously misunderstood and misjudged this pandemic from the beginning. In turn, Trump has ushered in a season of acute anxiety. Where I live, in Washington, D.C., my neighborhood businesses are closed. Our otherwise busy streets are relatively empty to human foot traffic. Be that as it may, friends of mine have lost their jobs; others anguish over decisions they must make in the coming weeks to preserve their small businesses. No matter your geographic or economic footprint, when Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin suggests unemployment could reach 20 percent nationwide as a result of this pandemic, terror is commonality.

This is all taking place as states postpone presidential primary elections.

Recently, Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, and Ohio delayed their presidential primaries. Initially, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised that gatherings of 50 people or more were to be avoided. Very soon thereafter, The White House lowered the number to 10 people.

Why? And what are the long-term ramifications? Americans do not vote in a mass convention style during a general election. We line up — no different than checking into a hotel, as I did recently — receive a ballot, and vote in private. The secret ballot in elections is important and fair; without it, the government could punish its citizens. The founders made that requirement clear in the Federalist Papers and later in the Constitution.

Recently, and according to news reports, Trump acknowledged that his Oval Office address aimed at calming the public panic about coronavirus was ineffective; it even precipitated a significant stock market crash, the worst since 1987. The stock market has continued its precipitous fall, which is important and relevant because throughout his presidency, Trump and his team have foolishly relied on the stock market as a barometer for the health of the economy and, by extension, his presidency. Consequentially, an economic recession appears to be around the corner.

It is no wonder that Trump finds himself in deep political trouble. Before the coronavirus outbreak, Trump’s primary argument for re-election was a flourishing economy. Not anymore. The one opponent he did not want to face, former Vice President Joe Biden, is running away with the Democratic Party’s nomination. It is, in the vernacular of popular culture, a double whammy.

That said, Trump has been resolute that Article II of the Constitution provides him absolute power. His Attorney General, William Barr, has done nothing to dissuade the electorate of that notion.

Scandals involving Russian interference in the 2016 election and pay-to-play endeavors regarding Ukraine did not fully expose the sinister underbelly of this presidency, remarkably. The coronavirus pandemic has not done that either, but it has showcased Trump’s profound ineptitude. Forty-six percent of Americans now say the federal government is doing enough to prevent the spread of coronavirus. This is down from 61 percent in February. Just 37 percent say they have a good or great deal of trust in what they are hearing from the president.

Without mass testing and triage, the coronavirus will likely continue to prevail nationwide; exposure will surely blanket the United States, just as it has in other countries. American anxiety and fear will increase, particularly as many people face life-changing consequences. Whether he appreciates it or not, Trump will eventually confront a stark reality: Voters care more about their own health and well-being than his political future.

It is understood that Trump hates to lose. It is why, among other reasons, Trump cheats at the gentleman’s game of golf. With that in mind, will Trump endeavor to delay rather than stand for an election he could lose?

If current polling holds true, Trump will not win the Electoral College this November. 

Call me crazy, but I believe Trump will openly express his desperation if and when realistic electoral defeat is on his horizon. We have not reached that point, but I believe we will.

In 2016, Trump lost the popular vote by the widest vote margin in American history, despite winning the Electoral College. Still, he was never able to let go. Based on his maladroit handling of the coronavirus pandemic, he could lose the popular vote this November by a lot more than he did in 2016, and as a result, further jeopardize his standing with the Electoral College.

Among other important acknowledgements, Articles I and II grant jurisdiction to Congress and the states regarding the election of the president. The day of the election itself is governed by federal statute. The states, based on a manner their legislature shall direct, will select their electors. Congress shall choose the day the electors vote. The respective state popular vote has, since the 19th century, dictated the award of electors. That is our electoral process.

Antagonists of Trump recognize, as I do, his ability to manipulate and bend rules and people — particularly Republicans — to his will. To be clear regarding Trump: There is a lot to concern us about the ways he could abuse executive power in the months ahead in order support his re-election efforts.

Time will tell.

If the coronavirus pandemic gets worse and Trump’s poll numbers continue to fall, that will be a lot more likely. It is why there is an on-going concern about the integrity of the November presidential election. Like it or not, history has a crude way of repeating itself.

President Trump cares about one thing only: President Trump. Facing the possibility of his defeat this November, it is not hard to imagine that he might invoke enhanced presidential powers, even a declaration of martial law, or commandeer his reliable and susceptible Republican allies in Congress, to impugn the 2020 presidential election.

Strangely but certainly, Republicans in Congress seem to live in fear of Trump. Perhaps this is why most recently, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who privately was of the view that the coronavirus pandemic was “akin to the 1918 pandemic” that killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide, refused to say so publicly for fear of irritating Trump. With the exception of Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Trump’s impeachment acquittal in the Senate, too, was motivated by Republican fear.

To Trump’s disliking, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the heroine of our current democratic story, and the Constitution — particularly Article I — would ultimately stop him cold.

Trump maintains a misguided perspective of many things, particularly the United States Constitution. Article II does not afford him unlimited authority; it affords him no purview over national elections. Emergency powers even, like martial law, do not suspend the Constitution. The 20th Amendment limits the time a president and vice president can remain in office before succession is invoked. Considering this and more beyond, Americans should have absolute confidence that regardless of Trump’s rhetorical and procedural shenanigans (and no doubt there will be plenty), the November elections will proceed as scheduled.

That does not mean the days ahead will be easy or sensible for our democracy. Trump’s relentless attacks on the free press, his purges of critical civil servants, and his dogged reliance on gaslighting may have successfully turned out the lights and marshaled America into an intermittent period of darkness.

But Trump’s efforts have not cut the power. And Americans thrive during a challenge. We always have. 

Blake Rutherford is the former chief of staff and special advisor to the attorneys general of Arkansas and Pennsylvania. He was a delegate from Pennsylvania for Hillary Clinton in 2016. He also worked on the Clinton-Gore ’96 presidential campaign, the 53rd Presidential Inaugural Committee, and the Gore 2000 presidential campaign, among others. He recently served as a senior advisor at Laurel Strategies and as a member in the Government and Regulatory Law Group at the Cozen O’Connor law firm in Washington, D.C. Previously he was vice president of McLarty Companies, led by former Clinton White House chief of staff Thomas F. “Mack” McLarty, where he provided strategic counsel, executive management, communications strategy, and legal guidance. Follow him on Twitter @blakerutherford

Tags 2020 election Constitution Coronavirus coronavirus pandemic COVID-19 Donald Trump election meddling Electoral College Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Mitt Romney Nancy Pelosi popular vote Richard Burr William Barr

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