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The problem with Trump's hair-raising 2020 battle plan

Updated 5:41 PM ET, Sat August 1, 2020

Editor's Note: Frida Ghitis, a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a frequent opinion contributor to CNN, a contributing columnist to The Washington Post and a columnist for World Politics Review. Follow her on Twitter @fridaghitis. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. Read more opinion on CNN.

(CNN) - Remember how President Donald Trump used to say, "No collusion," at every chance, to stave off -- among other things -- impeachment? He's now using a similar craft-a-narrative tactic, this time hoping it will help him stay in office: He blasts mail-in voting incessantly.

The President seems to have revealed his battle plan for November.

After failing to boost his collapsing poll numbers with racism, cooked up street battles, conspiracy theories or pandemic denials, Trump now is thickly laying the groundwork for discrediting the outcome of the election -- one where victory is looking increasingly out of his reach.

The apparent plan? Make it difficult to vote, guarantee voting is slow and complicated and raise questions about the outcome.

He wants to be able to claim, as he already has, that the 2020 vote is fraudulent. Whatever happens, he will likely say he won.

And if he ends up leaving office in spite of it all, he may leave it having undercut the ability of his successor to govern -- and leaving America weaker, less respected, less democratic. Indeed, the strategy that is becoming rapidly apparent is as harmful a threat to US democracy as America's enemies have waged.

The outlines became clear on Thursday, when Trump suggested in a tweet that perhaps the elections should be postponed.

The early morning tweet seemed calibrated to overtake catastrophic headlines that day: the worst economic contraction in the history of GDP records, an economy shrinking nearly 10% from April through June and more than 150,000 Americans dead from a pandemic spiraling out of control. It also preceded a televised funeral for a beloved civil rights icon who risked his life to fight for the right to vote for all Americans.

But if the tweet's timing aimed to distract, the content merited alarm.

Experts quickly noted that of course Trump has no power to change the election's date (only Congress can). And Republicans rejected the idea -- among them a founder of the conservative Federalist Society (who voted for Trump and opposed his impeachment), who called the notion "fascistic" and deemed the tweet itself grounds for immediate impeachment. Like others, he noted that elections happened as scheduled even during the Civil War and World War II.

But Trump's doubling down on his strategy during his Thursday afternoon so-called coronavirus briefing, made it clear that this was not a casual tweet -- it's a plan, and seems to be moving forward. He has been repeatedly pushing the notion that mail-in voting is rife with fraud, despite experts pointing out that this is a lie.

And now he appears to have help: The Trump donor (more than $2 million to Trump and GOP causes since 2016) and former finance chair of the Republican National Convention tapped last month to run the Postal Service, Louis DeJoy.

Listen to CNN's reporting on a memo outlining new procedures put into place under DeJoy:

"The new policies include hours being cut back within the US Postal Service, according to the memo obtained by CNN that shows talking points given to USPS managers across the country on July 10.

According to the memo, overtime, including late trips and extra trips by USPS workers, is no longer authorized or accepted. This is explained as a cost cutting measure that could save the financially struggling USPS around $200 million.

'One aspect of these changes that may be difficult for employees is that, temporarily -- we may see mail left behind or mail on the workroom floor or docks ... which is not typical,' reads the memo."

According to the Washington Post, David Partenheimer, spokesman for the US Postal Service (an independent agency), called the notion that Trump was directing Lejoy "wholly misplaced and off-base," and said that any service "impacts" from the new procedures "will be monitored and temporary."

Already mail is piling up, with growing delivery backlogs across the country. Postal workers are beyond alarmed. "I'm actually terrified to see election season under the new procedure," Lori Cash, of the American Postal Workers Union told the Post.

Do not be taken in: The administration's failure to contain the Covid-19 pandemic has made mail-in voting the only viable, secure and non-life-threatening option for millions of Americans -- many of whom are already doing it. Nearly all of the elections in Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah are conducted entirely by mail, for example. Trump and more than a dozen in his administration, including his daughter Ivanka Trump and Attorney General William Barr, have voted by absentee ballot.

But instead of making this easier, safer and more efficient, Trump is trying to make it less efficient and less believable.

During Thursday's briefing, Trump revealed more elements of his plan. He spoke of vote counting that could take a week, "or a month or, frankly, with litigation and everything else that can happen, years." Ah, yes, litigation. Trump, who sues or threatens to sue when he doesn't like reality, could take America to court.

Remember his struggles to makes us believe there were giant crowds at his inauguration, even though our eyes proved he was lying? If he loses in November, he may very well plan to go to court against that reality.

His critics may see through Trump's strategy, but millions of his followers believe what he says and will believe him throughout the fall, and after Nov. 3 -- and if he loses, they may join him in rejecting the election's outcome. The damage to America's democracy could be incalculable and lasting.

Of course, this strategy would fall apart if Trump loses in a landslide. The wider the margin of defeat, the more difficult it will be for him to claim he was robbed. Anything could happen in the next three months -- we certainly learned that in 2016.

Americans -- and their elected leaders -- have to defend the election. Mail-in must be made easy, easy to carry out, easy to count. States need to have sufficient polling locations, voting machines and poll workers. The voter rolls must be protected. Hackers must be locked out.

Enemies of our nation's democracy must be thwarted in their efforts to turn this fall into a national nightmare.


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