But on Wednesday, Trump decided to apply this often-toothless threat to another state in which it seems significantly ... less opportune.
In a tweet, Trump said he was considering withholding funding from Michigan because its secretary of state is facilitating easier absentee voting for the 2020 election amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Breaking: Michigan sends absentee ballots to 7.7 million people ahead of Primaries and the General Election. This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue Secretary of State. I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2020
“Breaking: Michigan sends absentee ballots to 7.7 million people ahead of Primaries and the General Election,” Trump said. “This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue Secretary of State. I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!”
There are many problems with this tweet. The first and most obvious is the strategic one. Michigan was one of three states that provided Trump his 2016 victory by going for him by less than one percentage point. Polls there currently show him trailing Joe Biden by the mid-single digits — a margin that, if borne out in November, would make winning reelection significantly more difficult for Trump (with the caveat that 2016 polls there weren’t very accurate).
It’s too simple to label this some kind of catastrophic blunder, but it seems like the kind of thing that probably wouldn’t help. And when you layer on top of it Trump’s comment about telling Vice President Pence not to take a call from Michigan’s governor early in the coronavirus outbreak, you could forgive swing voters in the state for thinking Trump wasn’t exactly looking out for them.
(Trump, as it happens, is also headed to Michigan on Thursday, a trip during which you would think this whole thing might flare up again.)
But the strategic angle is hardly the only problem with the tweet. The glaring error is that Trump’s claim isn’t even true. While Michigan’s secretary of state is making it easier to vote absentee, she is not sending out absentee ballots; she is sending out applications for absentee ballots.
And this is, in fact, something that even many Republican secretaries of state and governors are doing — with nary a peep from Trump. Iowa’s GOP secretary of state has sent these applications to all voters ahead of a July special election. Georgia’s has done this for the state’s June 9 primary. Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams (R) has pushed ahead with doing the same, telling NPR he got “his head taken off” by fellow Republicans for doing so. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R), likewise, has said he will allow expansive vote-by-mail if the outbreak is a problem in the fall.
The difference between most of these efforts and what’s happening in Michigan, of course, is that Michigan’s move is for the general election. And that seems to be why Trump is suddenly speaking out: because this could impact him personally. (He did the same thing later Wednesday morning with Nevada, another competitive state.) He is apparently willing to wield this threat because he is truly worried that increased turnout will hurt him — as he said in a remarkably unvarnished admission recently.
But if that’s the calculation, you do wonder how well thought-out it is. The fact is that a very strong and growing majority of Americans support allowing people to vote by mail if they want to. A recent Pew poll showed that 7 in 10 Americans support this, including 49 percent of Republicans. Assuming that 7 in 10 is somewhere in the ballpark of where Michiganders are on vote-by-mail, you have to wonder how many swing voters are now seeing Trump threatening to hold their funding hostage over a decision by their secretary of state that they actually support.
In other words: The threat — which like many other funding threats Trump has made is probably just a threat — doesn’t seem like a particularly great idea. What it does suggest is that Trump is really worried that increased turnout in states such as Michigan will sink his reelection.