Whenever some ridiculous idea gets lodged in President Trump’s brain, we’ve tended to assume that in short order he’ll persuade all Republicans to follow his lead, and even if other Americans don’t agree, the effect will be to alter the political landscape inexorably.

But what if that’s not actually how it works? Trump’s new obsession with voting by mail provides an excellent case study in his failing ability to remake reality, when he can’t even persuade his own party to share his beliefs.

As you’ve probably heard, in recent days the president has become almost obsessed with the supposed dangers of people voting absentee (despite the fact that he casts his own ballot that way).

“We don’t want them to do mail-in ballots because it’s going to lead to total election fraud,” he said Thursday. “So we don’t want them to do mail-in ballots. We don’t want anyone to do mail-in ballots.”

Trump went so far as to issue a bizarre threat to "hold up funding” to Michigan and Nevada because those states are making it easier for people to vote from home in the midst of the pandemic, by mailing everyone an absentee ballot application in Michigan’s case, and mailing everyone an absentee ballot in Nevada’s.

But not only is Trump’s claim that fraud is rampant in absentee voting bogus (absentee ballot fraud is exceedingly rare); his real motive — that he thinks mail voting advantages Democrats — is simply wrong.

That may partly explain why even many Republican states are turning their backs on Trump and moving to expand mail voting. The New York Times explains:

In the face of a pandemic, what was already limited opposition to letting voters mail in their ballots has withered. Eleven of the 16 states that limit who can vote absentee have eased their election rules this spring to let anyone cast an absentee ballot in upcoming primary elections — and in some cases, in November as well. Another state, Texas, is fighting a court order to do so.
Four of those 11 states are mailing ballot applications to registered voters, just as Michigan and Nevada are doing. And that does not count 34 other states and the District of Columbia that already allow anyone to cast an absentee ballot, including five states in which voting by mail is the preferred method by law.

Those four other states mailing absentee ballot applications to all voters are Georgia, Iowa, Nebraska and West Virginia — all states controlled by Republicans that Trump won in 2016.

There’s some resistance from Republican officeholders in some places, but the overwhelming trend is to ignore Trump and move ahead to make mail voting easier. Just as Trump has failed to convince all Republicans that we should stop wearing masks and immediately resume all social and economic activity, he hasn’t convinced his party that mail voting must be rejected, or limited only to important people such as him.

And once a state opens up its system and lets anyone who wants to vote by mail do so, it’s going to be very hard after 2020 to close that door again and make it more restrictive. In fact, if anything, we’re likely to see more states move to all-mail elections, which are already in place in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Hawaii, and Utah.

Nor has Trump been able to convince the public at large that people shouldn’t be allowed to vote by mail. According to polls (see here or here), about two-thirds of the public supports allowing anyone to vote by mail if they want; while Democrats are more likely to favor it, about half of Republicans agree, despite the president’s vocal opposition. You can even get a majority of Americans saying elections should only be conducted by mail.

But the core of Trump’s support, the people who don MAGA hats and go to his rallies, and whine that their “freedom” is being destroyed if a store requires them to wear a mask in the midst of a pandemic, are following Trump’s lead.

As Tim Alberta reports from Michigan, Trump superfans are now convinced that voting by mail will be the way Democrats steal the election:

The warp speed at which alarms about voter fraud — and specifically, voting by mail — were synchronized from the president’s Twitter feed to the lips of his voters guarantees a volatile five months ahead, and a potentially volcanic period thereafter.

So here’s the big picture. We have a broad consensus spanning both Republicans and Democrats that the old rules requiring an excuse for absentee voting — which were on their way out anyway — are certainly inappropriate during a pandemic. By the time this election is over, they may all be gone.

Plenty of people will still go to the polls in future elections, but more and more will vote by mail, once they realize how easy and convenient it is. Yet Trump’s hardcore base is now convinced that mail voting is fraudulent.

If he loses in November — an outcome they were already primed to reject as illegitimate by definition — they’ll say mail voting is one of the reasons. But without support from the rest of the Republican Party, that claim won’t matter much, and mail voting will likely be here to stay.

It will be one more example of how Trump made a lot of noise but ended up accomplishing nothing.

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