Trump can't delay the election. But can he delegitimize it?
Jon Lieber, Managing Director for the United States at the Eurasia Group, shares his perspective on US politics - from the Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., where the baseball season began last week, even though it may not last very long.
First question, Trump tweeted about delaying the election. What's the deal?
Well, Trump can't delay the election. Only Congress can delay the election. And Congress is not going to delay the election. Bipartisan agreement here. Election has never been delayed. Not for the Civil War. Not the World War II. Not going to happen in coronavirus. What Trump can do, however, is delegitimize the results of the election in the mind of his supporters by calling into question the efficacy of vote-by-mail, which will be a huge factor in the November election due to the coronavirus. If enough people question the accuracy of vote-by-mail, that may give them grounds for challenging the election results in a close swing state, in a close election in November, which could lead to prolonged legal battles. And even if it doesn't, it could cause a lot of people to question the legitimacy of Joe Biden's presidency, should he win without any contest.
Second question, with COVID relief measures set to expire, where are congressional talks on another stimulus bill?
Well, congressional talks are going nowhere fast. The Democrats think they have a very strong hand, the Republicans aren't unified, and the administration seems to be spinning around in circles. However, the second quarter GDP numbers that came out this week were very bad, the worst in American history, and if Congress doesn't act, you're likely to see an increase in layoffs, business bankruptcies, and evictions all throughout August and September, which is not a great tailwind for a president who wants to get reelected. So, there's an obvious compromise sitting out there, a position between where the Republicans are and where the Democrats are, and so we still think something gets done on this sometime next week.
Third question, will the death of former presidential candidate Herman Cain change anyone's mind about the coronavirus?
Probably not. Cain may have caught the coronavirus at Trump's Tulsa rally, but that's impossible to prove. And while some liberals are using this to shame people about mask wearing and proper social distancing, most conservatives will just meet that with derision. Though this could be a cautionary tale, it's unlikely it will change anyone's mind. It is notable, however, that since the Tulsa rally, the president has really changed his messaging around the coronavirus, encouraging masking and taking this much more seriously, including canceling his convention acceptance speech in Jacksonville, Florida. This probably reflects the fact that the president knows he's really far behind Joe Biden in public opinion polling on the handling the coronavirus. He's got a lot of ground to make up.