The president’s inability to capture a majority of support sheds light on his extraordinary efforts to suppress the vote.
Donald Trump won the presidency with 46 percent of the popular vote. His approval rating, according to Gallup, has never hit 50 percent. He remains under 50 percent in national polling averages.
The president’s inability to capture a majority of support sheds light on his extraordinary attempts to limit the number of votes cast across the battleground state map — a massive campaign-within-a-campaign to maximize Trump’s chances of winning a contest in which he’s all but certain to earn less than 50 percent of the vote.
In Philadelphia, his campaign is videotaping voters as they return ballots. In Nevada, it’s suing to force elections officials in Nevada’s Democratic-heavy Clark County to more rigorously examine ballot signatures for discrepancies that could disqualify them. The Trump campaign has sued to prevent the expanded use of ballot drop boxes in Ohio, sought to shoot down an attempt to expand absentee ballot access in New Hampshire and tried to intervene against a lawsuit brought by members of the Navajo Nation in Arizona which sought to allow ballots received from reservations after Election Day because of mail delays. And that’s just a few of its efforts.
Never before in modern presidential politics has a candidate been so reliant on wide-scale efforts to depress the vote as Trump.
“What we have seen this year which is completely unprecedented … is a concerted national Republican effort across the country in every one of the states that has had a legal battle to make it harder for citizens to vote,” said Trevor Potter, a former chair of the Federal Election Commission who served as general counsel to Republican John McCain’s two presidential campaigns. “There just has been this unrelenting Republican attack on making it easier to vote.”
Potter, who now heads the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, added, “It puzzles me … I’ve never worked for a Republican candidate who thought it was a good idea to make it hard for people to vote.”
For Trump, however, the math makes sense. In 2016, he won Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — five of this year’s most important swing states — with under 50 percent of the vote. In two others, Georgia and North Carolina, he captured exactly half the votes. Having failed to expand his base beyond a committed — and sizable — core in his first term, the president stands to gain from a diminished turnout, particularly among voters of color.
Elections have long been marred by legal and illegal forms of voter suppression. But the coronavirus — and Trump’s baseless warnings about widespread voter fraud — shifted a once-ancillary feature of campaigns into overdrive. Democrats pushed to ease voting rules amid the pandemic, and Trump pushed back.
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