As the Trump administration struggles to keep its head above water with a public increasingly aware of how its myriad failings have worsened the outbreak of COVID-19—contributing to the deaths of some 100,000 Americans already—the president has grown desperate for ways to shift the media narrative to another topic.
Trump’s latest pathetic little spat with Twitter over the website’s reasonable decision to fact-check some of his tweets is a perfect example of him trying to drive the national conversation away from his incompetent virus response.
The tweets in question were about Trump’s oft-repeated and fundamentally erroneous claim that voting-by-mail escalates the risk of voter fraud which, incidentally, is another talking point he has been trying to use to distract news coverage from the pandemic. His surrogates have been hammering on and on against vote-by-mail measures even as it becomes clear that they’re necessary to help fight the spread of the coronavirus.
….living in the state, no matter who they are or how they got there, will get one. That will be followed up with professionals telling all of these people, many of whom have never even thought of voting before, how, and for whom, to vote. This will be a Rigged Election. No way!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 26, 2020
Even more important to Republicans than the distraction benefit provided by the vote-by-mail argument is that they truly do not want Americans to be able to do it. The GOP frequently relies on voter suppression to win elections and the party is terrified that permitting more Americans to vote in this election could remove the disastrous grip they currently hold over the Oval Office and United States Senate.
Forced to choose between democracy and their own hold on power, Republicans have made it abundantly clear that they will choose the latter over and over again. Their continued empowerment poses an existential threat to our Republic.
Today, Trump was confronted in the Oval Office by a reporter over some of his vote-by-mail lies. Pressed on the topic, he trotted out his most absurd lie about the subject to date, claiming in an extended rant that children ransacking mailboxes poses a threat to voting integrity.
“So when [Governor Newsom of California] sends out 28 million ballots and they’re in all the mailboxes and kids go and they raid the mailboxes and they hand them to people that are signing the ballots down the end of the street…which is happening. They grab the ballots. You don’t think that happens?” Trump said, painting a ludicrous portrait of an American wasteland presided over by roaming gangs of anti-democratic children.
“There’s ballot harvesting where all of a sudden… You know we had seven elections for Congress and they were like tied and they lost every one of them because they came and they dropped a whole pile of ballots on the table,” he went on, sketching out more of his conspiracy theory.
“But you don’t think they rip them out of mailboxes? It’s all the time you read about it. You could read about it, take a look. They do worse than that. In some cases, they won’t send them to like a Republican community, a conservative community. They don’t happen to send the ballots to those communities and there’s no way of checking,” he added, trotting out the kind of paranoid rhetoric that his base so eagerly laps up.
“You have to go and you have to vote. Voting is a great thing. Voting, we would be the laughingstock of the world and if you just use common sense you know that’s going to happen. But they raid the mailboxes,” Trump added.
“They can even print ballots. They get the same paper, the same machine, nothing special, they get the same paper, the same machine, they print ballots and [Attorney General Bill Burr] would have to do a great job to catch them doing it or your state authorities would have to. But you have tremendous potential, and you have tremendous fraud and abuse, but you have tremendous potential for fraud and abuse,” Trump finished, tossing another conspiracy on the pile and demonstrating his own profound ignorance of how vote-by-mail actually works.
In the Oval Office, President Trump says kids will raid mailboxes in California and hand out the ballots. "You don't think they rip them out of mailboxes?"
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) May 28, 2020
Trump baselessly claims fraud from mail-in ballots occurs when kids raid mailboxes pic.twitter.com/wYgqTtm5rM
— Talking Points Memo (@TPM) May 28, 2020
Twitter responded with a smattering of disbelief and mockery.
Trump gives remarks on kids grabbing ballots from everyone’s mailbox. pic.twitter.com/4p21liNSoG
— Multiplied #WearAMask Mom (@multipliedmoms) May 28, 2020
No. That doesn’t happen. He’s a liar and he made it up. He knows if everyone votes he loses.
— Scott Dworkin (@funder) May 28, 2020
I know that’s what I did as a young’un in the Midwest. Cow-tippin’ and ballot-stealin’. Right after watermelon-spikin’. What terrific memories.
— Mark Hertling (@MarkHertling) May 28, 2020
And if people have any question about what I’m saying, none of this happens. In the Midwest or anywhere. As a soldier, I’ve voted mail-in all my life until I retired. And maybe I’ll go back to that this year, just to show trust in a valid approach to voting!
— Mark Hertling (@MarkHertling) May 28, 2020
No. the only voter fraud ever has been treasonous Republicans.
— GOPrSuperDuperTraitors (@GoTraitors) May 28, 2020
"California Kids are going to follow the Mail Trucks on their Skateboards and STEAL all of the Mail-In Ballots as soon as they're delivered! LOCK THEM UP!"
— Trumpy Trumpy (parody) (@outofcontroljb) May 28, 2020
Was this something Trump saw once on Leave It to Beaver or Dennis the Menace–kids getting together and raiding mailboxes in mythical 1950s suburbia? I live in a major city. What mailboxes there are here are locked.
— Victoria Brownworth #NoMaskNoService (@VABVOX) May 28, 2020
Maybe he's referring to the same people here in Arizona who slash and remove Democratic candidate street signs every single election…
— Michael Muscato For Congress (@michael_muscato) May 28, 2020
Trumps animosity toward voting by mail finally explains his willingness to bankrupt the US Postal Service.
— dwight (@kansanskan) May 28, 2020
Most kids don’t even know when we vote and have no idea when the ballots get mailed.
— 💎🙌🏽𝔻𝕖𝕧𝕠𝕝𝕦𝕥𝕚𝕠𝕟𝕒𝕣𝕪🙌🏽💎 (@DevolutionMan) May 28, 2020
Wow, he’s almost hit the “get off my lawn” stage of dementia. He’s just one step away from running around pantsless. pic.twitter.com/NmDzIl0bQk
— Lux Pacis (@LuxPacis) May 28, 2020
CA mail-in voter here. I received a text when I updated my registration, when my ballot left the Registrar's office, when it hit my mailbox, when it left my post office, when it was received by the Registrar's office and when it was counted. SIX texts for one ballot. He's LYING.
— Charlene E. (@u2charlene) May 28, 2020
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Rob Haffey is a writer, filmmaker, and winner of the ScreenCraft Writing Fellowship. He is a graduate of Drexel University.