President Donald Trump leaned into his autocratic ambitions again on Thursday, suggesting that the fall presidential election could be delayed. On cue, pundits and politicians rightly went apoplectic. But the collective outrage distracted from a more salient message reiterated within Trump’s tweet.
Trump wants to set himself up to lose the election without being labeled a “loser.”
Trump does not care that his scorched-earth approach will leave the burnt husks of Republican candidates strewn across the country. He does not care that he will be handing Joe Biden not only a victory, but also a Democratically controlled U.S. House and U.S. Senate.
Trump definitely does not care about the country he swore to preserve, protect and defend.
The only thing important to Trump is the lie he can tell himself – and a fair number of his synaptically-challenged supporters – on Nov. 4.
I am not certain Trump realizes that he cannot unilaterally delay the election. With the House in Democratic hands, there is absolutely zero chance Congress would approve a delay. Even members of the GOP, practiced in Gumby-esque contortions of appeasement under Trump, vocally opposed his pronouncement.
Similarly, Steven Calabresi, the co-founder of the Federalist Society, a clearinghouse for conservative attorneys and judges, called for Trump to be impeached again and labeled Trump’s tweet “fascistic.”
As I write, I’m simply killing time until the good folks at the Lincoln Project get a video up on the topic. I’m sure it will happen before this column even gets printed.
Luckily, Trump is too weak to be an actual autocrat.
To begin, Trump hates his job. He loves the trappings, from a press gaggle available at his beck and call to the delight he derives from tormenting underlings.
And don’t forget the television ratings he obsesses over. But when it comes to protecting U.S. soldiers from Russian bounties or U.S. citizens from the ravages of the coronavirus, Trump cannot be bothered. Trump has failed to protect any of us from threats, foreign or domestic.
Instead, Trump seems laser-focused on the threat to his legacy. Nothing causes him more consternation than the possibility of his name being permanently affixed to the word “loser” in history books. His reaction to the word is so visceral that he openly worried about sharing his name with his eldest son lest he turn out to be a loser.
Yet with Election Day a little more than three months away, the possibility of winning re-election becomes ever harder to see.
Trump knows that if the election were held today, he would be walloped by nearly 200 votes in the Electoral College. His refuge of self-delusion, Fox News, recently reported Biden beating him by 15 points nationally.
Consequently, Trump pulled the emergency ripcord hoping to ease the impact at the end of his Wile E. Coyote-like descent.
Questioning the election garnered the most attention but based on Trump’s decision to capitalize “INACCURATE & FRADULENT” in his tweet, that is the label he is banking his legacy on. In the absence of any chance to win, Trump realized the only avenue to avoiding the loser label rested in undermining American democracy. If he can claim the election was stolen, that he was somehow cheated, he never has to admit he lost, to himself or anyone else.
Ironically, his continued attacks make it even more likely he will lose. Republicans listening to Trump and believing that the election has already been rigged will not have much incentive to cast ballots. That will cost not just Trump at the polls, but every Republican candidate sewn to his coattails.
Neither outcome will be of much consequence to Trump. I suspect he will use the 77 days after his defeat and before Biden’s inauguration to rail against unfair treatment and regurgitate election fraud conspiracy theories.
Consequently, when he leaves the White House, he will do so more content in his self-validation that he was not a “loser” than anything else he accomplished in his term of office.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq
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