Even as dozens of states were expanding mail-in voting eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, President Donald Trump spent months on the campaign trail telling his supporters not to cast their ballots that way.
“It shouldn’t be mail-in voting. It should be you go to a booth and you proudly display yourself,” Trump said in April, one of the first times that he spoke publicly on the issue. “You don’t send it in the mail where people pick up—all sorts of bad things can happen by the time they sign that, if they sign that, by the time it gets in and is tabulated. No. It shouldn’t be mailed in.”
He beat that same drum for the next six months. Mail-in voting was risky and dangerous, he said. It would allow postal workers or other nefarious forces to alter or lose ballots. “Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed,” he tweeted in May.
The result, unsurprisingly, is that Trump’s supporters voted mostly in person on Election Day. As a result, the piles of mail-in ballots that are now being counted and that may prove to be decisive in several key states tend to favor former Vice President Joe Biden—in Pennsylvania, for example, Biden is getting 78 percent of the mail-in vote total, The New York Times reported today.
This isn’t fraud. This isn’t a scheme to steal the election. It is the very predictable outcome of the president’s own words and actions.
Of course, Trump doesn’t see it that way. Always one to play the victim, Trump used a Thursday evening press conference at the White House to suggest that “overwhelming” support for Biden among mail-in ballots is somehow suspicious.
“We were winning in all the key locations, by a lot, and then our numbers started getting magically whittled away,” he said.
There’s nothing magical happening here.
Indeed, some Republicans were warning about the potential pitfalls of Trump’s anti–mail-in voting messaging months ago. In July, I interviewed former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, a Republican (who later endorsed Biden), about Trump’s mail-in voting strategy. Here’s what Ridge said:
The idea that Republicans are disadvantaged by higher turnout is “nonsense,” says Tom Ridge, the former Republican governor of Pennsylvania and former Secretary of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush. Ridge, who now serves as chairman of the National Organization on Disability, says there is no reason for states to force voters to choose between “your health or your vote” and stresses that political parties should feel an obligation to support policies that make it easier for Americans to participate in the electoral process, regardless of whether there is a pandemic.
When it comes to the gamesmanship of politics, Ridge wonders if Trump’s repeated questioning of the legitimacy of mail-in voting could even end up hurting Republicans in the fall. If COVID-19 is raging in November, older voters that haven’t requested an absentee ballot (or who weren’t allowed to get one) might just stay home.
“Absentee voting gives neither party a political advantage, but the political party or the candidate that has a concerted, focused effort on encouraging absentee voting does have an advantage,” he says. “It seems counterintuitive and counterproductive for the president to be opposed to it when, frankly, Republicans are going to have to use it.”
In the months since, various experts have warned about the so-called “blue shift” that could occur after the election, as Trump’s supporters headed to the polls in force on Election Day and Biden’s mail-in vote calvary was counted in the days after.
It’s also worth noting that Pennsylvania could have averted some of this mess by changing its law to allow mail-in ballots to be counted prior to the election. Republicans in the state legislature refused to do so. If they had, many of the votes now being tallied for Biden—votes that have nearly erased what was once a 700,000 vote lead for Trump in the state—may have been counted earlier.
Counting those votes earlier wouldn’t have changed the outcome, of course, but it would have potentially avoided the appearance of a late comeback from Biden—and it is that appearance to which Trump is now objecting and using as the basis for his unsubstantiated claims of fraud.
In every way, what’s happening now is the entirely predictable result of decisions that Trump and his allies made earlier in the year. If he and they do not like what they are seeing, it should be obvious where the blame rests.