But in this disconnect you can see exactly how Trump hopes his endgame plays out. It exposes, with unsettling clarity, his strategy for corrupting the election.
Republicans have unleashed a new wave of robocalls that urge Trump voters to vote by absentee ballot in the election, and CNN obtained audio. They were recorded by Kimberly Guilfoyle, the girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr., and Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law.
In the calls, they tell voters that vote-by-mail may be fraudulent, but absentee voting is not.
“President Trump needs you to join him in voting absentee this year,” says Guilfoyle, adding that “absentee voting is safe, secure and supported by President Trump.” But, she adds, vote-by-mail is “filled with fraud, abuse and mistakes.”
Similarly, on her robocall, Lara Trump claims that vote-by-mail is rife with fraud, but also stresses that Trump supports absentee voting, because it is “safe and secure.”
The distinction between absentee voting and vote-by-mail is a fiction. The idea is supposed to be that the latter has far fewer protections, but the two modes of voting are the same, and mail voting in general benefits from an array of safeguards against fraud.
For comic relief, note that this shows Trump’s strategy of attacking vote-by-mail is in one sense backfiring — as Republicans worried might happen — by dissuading his own voters from using it. Guilfoyle deals with this by claiming on her robocall that the “radical left” doesn’t want Trump voters to use absentee balloting.
“Democrats want to scare you away from voting absentee," Guilfoyle says. Never mind all that stuff Trump keeps saying. You should vote by mail anyway, because we’re telling you the left and Democrats oppose it!
But this raises the bigger question: If Trump keeps saying that vote-by-mail is fraudulent, even as his operatives urge supporters to use it by relying on this fake distinction with absentee voting, doesn’t this mean any efforts to contest and invalidate mail ballots could end up tossing out some of his own votes?
This is where Trump’s corrupt scheme comes into full view.
How this scheme will work
It turns on a basic trick: In the post-Election Day endgame, the Trump campaign and GOP lawyers will only contest mail ballots in states where he’s on track to lose, pending the counting of large numbers of mail ballots, and where invalidating them would make it more likely that he prevails.
Meanwhile, in states that are called for Trump, or where it’s obvious he’s on track to winning comfortably, any such efforts will be irrelevant.
Imagine that in Pennsylvania, Trump is very narrowly ahead in the Election Day count, with large numbers of mail ballots left to be counted over coming days or weeks. This is plausible — the new Fox News poll of Pennsylvania finds far larger percentages of Joe Biden supporters plan to vote by mail there.
Here, Trump will already be ahead in the count, so invalidating mail votes can only preserve his lead, because far larger percentages of those outstanding votes will be for Biden. So even if some Trump supporters’ mail ballots get tossed along with Biden votes, it’s unlikely to harm him.
And so, in a scenario like this, you’ll see the Trump campaign and Republicans vigorously contest those outstanding ballots in court, in numerous ways.
As election law expert Rick Hasen notes, Republicans can try to get large classes of mailed ballots tossed out after the election on numerous procedural grounds, potentially taking one of these challenges all the way to the Supreme Court. Trump has openly declared he’s expecting the court — and his new nominee — to rule his way.
Any such effort will not matter in states where Trump wins. So telling his supporters to vote by mail in them can only help him.
“Trump and Republicans are likely to only attack mail voting in court in places where it could tip the results to Trump,” Hasen tells me, “while leaving the results in other states with their mail-in counts standing.”
No end to the corruption
It’s true that Republicans are working right now in many states both to get rid of measures that will make mail voting easier and to install changes that will make it easier to invalidate ballots. Those theoretically could impact Trump supporters who want to vote by mail, too.
But because we already know that nationally, Democrats are going to vote by mail in far larger numbers, such efforts will disproportionately harm them, helping Trump’s chances.
Here’s the big point that really matters: By telling Trump voters to vote absentee, and by telling them that it’s “safe” and “secure,” Trump’s propagandists are badly undercutting his ongoing claim that such voting is irredeemably riddled with fraud and cannot render a legitimate outcome.
Yet they are simultaneously using those same claims about fraud to lay the groundwork to contest enormous numbers of mail ballots in places where invalidating as many legally cast votes as possible might tip close states to Trump. You can’t ask for a clearer picture than that of how corrupt this whole enterprise is.
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