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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Photo by southerntabitha / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

On Sunday, President Donald Trump prepared to hold his first indoor campaign rally in three months, a risky move as the coronavirus continues to spread widely among Americans. Each day, tens of thousands of people are diagnosed with COVID-19 and hundreds die of the diseasein the United States.

He scheduled the rally in Henderson, Nevada, a state Hillary Clinton won in 2016 that his team hopes to flip. It's his first indoor rally since he held a mass gathering in Tulsa, Oklahoma in June, which was notably underattended. Herman Cain, a prominent supporter of the president, defiantly showed up and didn't wear a mask, like many of the attendees. He died weeks later from COVID-19.


Indoor spaces with many unmasked people cheering are among the most dangerous conditions for spreading the virus, experts have warned. And despite the catastrophe Trump invited in June, one that may well have killed Herman Cain, the president is prepared to try it again.

Trump has already faced criticism for encouraging his supporters to gather together in outdoor settings without masks, but the evidence indicates meeting indoors is substantially higher risk.

In response to these concerns, the campaign put out a remarkably petulent statement:

If you can join tens of thousands of people protesting in the streets, gamble in a casino, or burn down small business in riots, you can gather peacefully under the 1st Amendment to hear from the president of the United States.

There are many things wrong with this brief comment.

First, it's not even clear who the "you" it refers to is actually addressing. It certainly isn't responding to someone concerned about the risk of corovirus spread at all venues, including casinos and protests.

Second, an indoor rally, as discussed, is precisely the most dangerous type of activity to hold during the pandemic. Though there was real concern that that Black Lives Matter protests could spread the disease, little evidence has emerged showing that they significantly contributed to the spread, probably because of their outdoor settings and the prevalence of mask-wearing. Casinos are operating under new protocols designed to limit the risk of infection, though arguably, these establishments should just be closed for the duration of the pandemic.

Third, the president should be held to a higher standard than anyone else, as he bears responsibility for the health of the entire country in times like these. He should set an example by refraining from indulging the impulse to hold rallies, which seems to be nearly a compulsion for him.

Fourth, the reference to being allowed to "burn down small businesses" is ridiculously over the top and absurd. No one is allowed to do this; it is a crime that people get prosecuted for. This line was supposed to be, presumably, a "gotcha" for the media that the president thinks doesn't take rioting seriously enough, but it really just makes the campaign look childish. People who burn down buildings should be held responsible, just as politicians who hold reckless gatherings during a pandemic should be held responisble.

Fifth, all of this is made worse because of the president's own messaging. He often scoffs at the practice of wearing masks, one of the best ways to reduce infection when distancing isn't possible. And while some of his supporters wear masks at his rallies, many — perhaps the majority — do not, which is likely to be the case at Sunday's rally. He implicitly encourages this recklessness.

Sixth, the reference to the "First Amendment" is just entirely beside the point. No one is suggesting Trump shouldn't hold his rally because it's a particular kind of political rally — the objection is to the safety of the conduct, regardless of its political content. Many theaters, similarly, remain closed because of concerns like those raised by an indoor rally.

Photo by expertinfantry/ CC BY 2.0

At this moment, the president of the United States is threatening to "throw out" the votes of millions of Americans to hijack an election that he seems more than likely to lose. Donald Trump is openly demanding that state authorities invalidate lawful absentee ballots, no different from the primary ballot he mailed to his new home state of Florida, for the sole purpose of cheating. And his undemocratic scheme appears to enjoy at least nominal support from the Supreme Court, which may be called upon to adjudicate the matter.

But what is even worse than Trump's coup plot — and the apparent assent of unprincipled jurists such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — is the Democratic Party's feeble response to this historic outrage. It is the kind of issue that Republicans, with their well-earned reputation for political hardball, would know how to exploit fully and furiously.

They know because they won the same game in Florida 20 years ago.

During that ultimate legal showdown between George W. Bush and Al Gore, when every single vote mattered, a Democratic lawyer argued in a memorandum to the Gore team that the validity of absentee ballots arriving after Election Day should be challenged. He had the law on his side in that particular instance — but not the politics.

As soon as the Republicans got hold of that memo, they realized that it was explosive. Why? Many of the late ballots the Democrats aimed to invalidate in Florida had been sent by military voters, and the idea of discarding the votes of service personnel was repellent to all Americans. Former Secretary of State James Baker, who was overseeing the Florida recount for Bush, swiftly denounced the Democratic plot against the soldiers, saying: "Here we have ... these brave young men and women serving us overseas. And the postmark on their ballot is one day late. And you're going to deny him the right to vote?"

Never mind the grammar; Baker's message was powerful — and was followed by equally indignant messages in the following days from a parade of prominent Bush backers including retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the immensely popular commander of U.S. troops in the Desert Storm invasion that drove Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait. Fortuitously, Schwarzkopf happened to be on the scene as a resident of Florida.

As Jeffrey Toobin recounted in Too Close to Call, his superb book on the Florida 2000 fiasco, the Democrats had no choice but to retreat. "I would give the benefit of the doubt to ballots coming in from military personnel," conceded then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Gore's running mate, during a defensive appearance on Meet the Press. But Toobin says Gore soon realized that to reject military ballots would render him unable to serve as commander in chief — and that it would be morally wrong.

Fast-forward to 2020, when many of the same figures on the Republican side are now poised to argue that absentee ballots, which will include many thousands of military votes — should not be counted after Election Day, even if they arrived on time. Among those Republicans is Justice Kavanaugh, who made the opposite argument as a young lawyer working for Bush in Florida 20 years ago. Nobody expects legal consistency or democratic morality from a hack like him, but someone should force him and his Republican colleagues to own this moment of shame.

Who can do that? Joe Biden's campaign and the Democratic Party ought to be exposing the Republican assault on military ballots — and, by the same token, every legally valid absentee ballot — every day. But the Democrats notoriously lack the killer instinct of their partisan rivals, even at a moment of existential crisis like this one.

No, this is clearly a job for the ex-Republicans of the Lincoln Project, who certainly recall what happened in Florida in 2000. They have the attitude and aptitude of political assassins. They surely know how to raise hell over an issue like military votes — and now is the time to exercise those aggressive skills in defense of democracy.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.