What Does a Trump Army Do?
Terry H. Schwadron
Oct. 2, 2020
Donald Trump — and the Republican National Committee — have told us that they are sending an army of volunteers to the polls to keep fraud at bay.
But what exactly they are supposed to do is not clear, leading to the obvious conclusion that the real purpose here is to intimidate non-Trump voters and poll officials.
We know Trump’s insistence about the possibilities for fraud in mail-in votes, so you would think that he and his team would want people to go to polling places instead. But sending an army of partisans to watch over live voting seems an ominous sign not to do that either.
Rather, the goal seems to be to encourage Trump voters to cast a ballot — or two, illegally in every state, if you happened to be considering a mail ballot — and to promote a variety of voter suppression schemes in urban areas with Democratic majorities and more minority voters.
Justin Clark, a lawyer for the Trump campaign, told a conservative group this year of plans to “leverage about 50,000 volunteers all the way through, from early vote through Election Day, to be able to watch the polls,” reported The New York Times, with Trump himself using this week’s debate to highlight the need for that army to watch polls in Philadelphia, a Democratic stronghold in the key battleground of Pennsylvania.
Indeed, local officials did turn away some Trump poll watchers at a satellite polling site where absentee ballots could be picked up because they had not been registered as a poll watchers; normally only voter registration people or voters or those who sign up as watchers are allowed inside polling areas. During the debate, Trump exaggerated this incident to illustrate widespread, nationwide fraud.
Invitation for Conflict?
At least poll-watching, as we understand how it has been done, is non-violent — as compared with the threats Trump was sending about unleashing armed militias if he feels there has been fraud in the voting.
But what is the guarantee here? Why can’t this army include gun-toting, camo-clad MAGA troops in selected polling stations, just as those folks showed up over mask-wearing legislative sessions at state houses in Michigan and Wisconsin?
How aggressive will this army get about seeing someone look disdainfully at a Trump sign?
In that Pennsylvania incident, the troops carried cellphone cameras, apparently to monitor who was coming to request and complete absentee ballots. Listen to Team Trump and you get the idea that “bad things happen in Philadelphia” as the reason to urge his supporters everywhere to “go into the polls and watch very carefully.”
For what exactly?
Trump campaign officials have told reporters that it is distributing training videos to prospective poll watchers describing what they can and can’t do, and urging courtesy.
The poll watchers will challenge ballots and the eligibility of voters, but they are not supposed to interact with voters themselves. In Michigan, for instance, Trump troops have been told to record when any paper jams occur; in Arizona, they have been given a detailed breakdown of the state’s voter identification requirements. In Texas just yesterday, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered delivery boxes for mail ballots limited to one per (huge) county, and requires clerks at early voting locations to “allow poll watchers to observe any activity conducted at the early voting clerk’s office location related to the in-person delivery of a marked mail ballot,” including voter identification.
Nothing intimidating there.
And how many of us believe that is all that will happen? This is a formula for confrontation.
This week a New York Times Magazine investigation of mail-in ballot fraud is, once again, pretty baseless, but a persistent theme for the Trump reelection effort. The investigation, “based on a review of thousands of pages of court records and interviews with more than 100 key players — lawyers, activists and current and former government officials — found an extensive effort to gain partisan advantage by aggressively promoting the false claim that voter fraud is a pervasive problem. The effort takes its most prominent form in the president’s own public statements, which relentlessly promote the false notion that voter fraud is rampant.”
The Trump Factor
Until this week, I would have said that we all want the rules followed in vote counting, regardless of party and even despite the White House whines about mail-in votes. But the Tuesday debate changed that — this president is on the record saying that unless the votes go his way, the only possible result without widespread fraud, he will resist a peaceful turnover of power in an election loss.
That Trump’s described incidents have uniformly be found without merit by courts, state officials and county elections boards only makes it worse when he uses military jargon about an army of poll watchers and a desire for armed right-wing militias to “stand by.”
As it turns out, the Republican National Committee has been allowed to participate in poll watching only because the courts in 2018 lifted a ruling that had barred them from doing so for 35 years because of connection with voter suppression in New Jersey.
“It is remarkable, but not at all accidental, that a narrative built from minor incidents, gross exaggeration and outright fabrication is now at the center of the effort to re-elect the president,” said the Times Magazine. These claims are “nothing short of a decades-long disinformation campaign — sloppy, cynical and brazen, but often quite effective — carried out by a consistent cast of characters with a consistent story line.”
Creation of a Trump volunteer poll army comes as Politico tells us that polls they have been tracking show that attitudes among both Republicans and Democrats towards the justifiable use of violence in American elections is rising. Among Americans who identify as Democrat or Republican, 1 in 3 now believe that violence could be justified to advance their parties’ political goals — a substantial increase over the last three years.
It seems like time to take Trump’s threats as serious.
The Daily Maw:
A document obtained by NBC News tells us that the Department of Homeland Security instructed federal law enforcement officials to publicly sympathize with 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse as a defender of small business owners from rioters rather than as a murderer who took a rifle across state lines to shoot two protesters in Kenosha, WI. It’s not clear whether the talking points originated in the White House or in the DHS press office.