Right-wing media outlets are now trying to figure out exactly how to interpret President Donald Trump’s tweet this morning calling to “delay” the 2020 election.
Is this a serious proposal? Or is it really a political feint to cast attention on Trump’s concerns about expanded mail-in voting? Or is it just another rallying call to his base?
Or — and this is coming from self-proclaimed Trump expert Rush Limbaugh — it might just be some grade A-level political trolling about the coronavirus pandemic, “throwing it right back in their faces.”
Previously, Fox News personalities ridiculed comments by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who said in April that Trump might attempt to put off the election. Back then, Fox News commentators called such talk a “bizarre conspiracy theory,” “so dumb,” “an attempt to frighten people,” “a conjuring,” and other terms of derision.
But right out the gate on Thursday morning, during a discussion with Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), Fox Business host Stuart Varney proceeded to justify Trump’s newly voiced call to delay the election.
“But if we have mail-in balloting the way it's scheduled now, there is absolutely no way you will get an election result on election night, or even in the first few days,” Varney said. “That means confusion and endless challenges. That is a mess. What do you think? Delay the election?”
Later in the program, Varney interviewed Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, who explained that Trump “obviously understands” that the election date is set by Congress, “but he’s trying to highlight what many in the media are not paying attention to — we have a huge problem right now with mail-in voting across the country.”
For his part, Varney continued: “I guarantee problems in November. I guarantee that if things stay the same, there’s no way you're getting a result on election night or even in the first week after the election.”
In a later chat, Fox News host Pete Hegseth also told Varney that Trump that there isn’t any “serious conversation to be had” on changing the election date, but that Trump “has a knack for getting people all fired up, and then reminding them there’s a real issue here” around election integrity.
Over on Fox News, the spin was that Trump was trying to stir and motivate his base — though maybe even this was not a good idea, from just that political standpoint.
“So I think what we’re seeing this morning is just the president trying to sow the seeds of doubt here in the outcome of the election,” said Fox News chief White House correspondent John Roberts during a discussion on America’s Newsroom. “Is it because he’s concerned that he may not prevail on November the 3rd, or is he just trying to mix it up a little bit and throw some chum in the water for his base? It could be the latter, as opposed to the former.”
And during the same discussion, Fox News politics editor Chris Stirewalt seemed to assure viewers to “take it neither seriously nor literally,” and that this was “just flummery, and he’s either trying to provoke reaction or trying to sow doubt about the outcome.”
Stirewalt even castigated Trump’s outburst for going against the precedents that the United States had held elections during the Civil War and World War II — and suggested that this will be seen as a display of political weakness.
“And the idea for an incumbent to suggest that we would delay an election now, while he is in power, is of course totally out of character with all of his predecessors — and it is sort of a fragrant and flagrant expression of his current weakness,” Stirewalt said. “A person who was in a strong position would never, never suggest anything like that. So Trump may be making a tactical error here by further telegraphing his weak position in the polls and his weak position for reelection.”
Indeed, Fox News contributor Andy McCarthy tweeted that Trump’s remark would just “fuel the paranoia” about the idea that he wouldn’t willingly leave office after the election — linking to a piece McCarthy wrote last week for National Review on this “canard.”
But perhaps the most artful spin on this whole topic came from talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who explained that Trump was masterfully pushing back against both Democratic fears about the election and the demands for continued lockdowns in the pandemic.
“He’s attempting to play them like a Stradivarius,” Limbaugh explained. “You can’t look at this tweet in a vacuum.”
Late in the afternoon, Trump posted a series of tweets declaring that, yes, he was indeed spreading an important message about election security: