President Trump outdid himself this morning with a tweet floating the idea of delaying the election.
Obviously, this is an incendiary and absurd idea unworthy of being spoken — or even thought — by a president of the United States.
Top congressional Republicans poured scorn on the idea, and should continue to do so.
Trump obviously doesn’t have the power to delay the election. The Constitution gives Congress the power to fix the date of the election, and since 1845, it’s been the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. This is such an ingrained tradition that it is part of the warp and woof of American democracy.
It is a tribute to our commitment to self-government that elections have occurred as scheduled on this day during the worst crises of American history — when federal troops were in the field against rebel troops who sought to destroy the nation, when the unemployment rate was 25 percent, when U.S. forces were engaged in an epic struggle to save the West from the depredations of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
Trump doesn’t understand this, or doesn’t care. It is another indication of how little he’s let the institution of the presidency shape him, and how selfishly he approaches his duties.
The proximate cause of his tweet was his frequently expressed opposition to mail-in voting. We prefer in-person voting, as a matter of ballot security and civic ritual, but given concerns over any sizable gatherings of people during the pandemic, states are inevitably going to embrace more mail-in voting. This raises the prospect of an excruciating overtime after the election if it’s close because it takes so long to count mail-in ballots.
This is a legitimate concern. But it’s no reason for the sitting president of the United States to affirmatively undermine faith in an election that can, should, and indubitably will take place on its appointed day, as it has throughout the history of the world’s greatest republic.