Donald Trump wants to delay the presidential election. He confirmed as such in a tweet Thursday morning, peddling mail-in voting conspiracy theories and suggesting Election Day should be postponed “until people can properly, securely, and safely vote.”
Trump doesn’t have the power to delay the election, of course, and most media organizations (but not all) did a surprisingly decent job of saying that outright and denouncing his false claims about mail-in voting fraud. But just because Trump doesn’t have the authority to delay the election doesn’t mean his supporters know that or even care. And it certainly doesn’t mean Trump won’t try.
Donald Trump isn’t a very actionable human being. Despite cultivating an image of a big bad boss who fires incompetent employees, he rarely (if ever) actually fires people, regularly hires dumbasses, and habitually relies on aides, advisers, and other political stooges to do his bidding. And he’s got plenty of those in government who are willing to spread his conspiracy nonsense for him.
"In the end, the Department of Justice and others will make that legal determination" — Mike Pompeo on Trump's tweet suggesting the presidential election should be delayed pic.twitter.com/lmCoolwAg0
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 30, 2020
Shortly after Trump’s tweet, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations committee about the State Department’s proposed budget, said the Justice Department would help “make th[e] legal determination” about an election delay. The thing is, it won’t—the election can only be delayed with congressional approval. But there’s more than enough doubt and uncertainty in and about American institutions right now for people to simply ignore that. Trump tweeting about an election delay is a clear attempt to sow more chaos and discord, and the fact that he has media defenders and government officials willing to not only cover for him, but emboldening his absurdity makes it all well within the realm of possibility. Trump and his powerful allies don’t care what he is and isn’t legally allowed to do.
Trump’s media stooges are the final piece of the puzzle. They include the usual Fox News and Breitbart suspects you’d expect, but branch out to fringe conspiracists and IDW-adjacent influencers.
Trump played it safe with the question mark
but that's not stopping everyone from saying he definitively called for it https://t.co/GGQBp0Kqta
— Tim Pool (@Timcast) July 30, 2020
Smooth-brained chuds like Tim Pool love to play semantics with Trump’s tweets. And while it’s mostly a game to them, the president’s desperate clinging to power makes garbage like this more potent. Disaffected Trump supporters like Pool say they’re tired of the media misrepresenting Trump’s words even when his words, actions, and motivations are completely transparent. Pool will be tweeting about question marks and strategic intent up until the day Trump declares election results illegitimate and empowers his supporters to attack liberals and leftists in the streets.
There’s a good chance (read: certainty) that Trump’s tweet was a distraction from Thursday’s dismal GDP numbers. He knows exactly what the news media will set their focus on. But the fact he’s willing to delegitimize an election he’s likely to lose before it happens proves he doesn’t care about the limits of his legal authority or the unrest his words create. And his most powerful and influential defenders don’t care either.