President Donald Trump on Thursday raised the idea of delaying the Nov. 3 U.S. elections, an idea immediately rejected by both Democrats and his fellow Republicans in Congress - the sole branch of government with the authority to make such a change.
Critics and even Trump's allies dismissed the notion as an unserious attempt to distract from devastating economic news, but some legal experts warned that his repeated attacks could undermine his supporters' faith in the election process.
Steven Calabresi, a co-founder of the conservative Federalist Society and a professor at Northwestern University’s law school, wrote in The New York Times, “Until recently, I had taken as political hyperbole the Democrats’ assertion that President Trump is a fascist. But this latest tweet is fascistic and is itself grounds for the president’s immediate impeachment again by the House of Representatives and his removal from office by the Senate.”
Calabresi is a longtime prominent figure in Republican circles and says he has voted for the GOP in every election since 1980.
The truly dangerous part of Trump's tweet on Thursday was not his suggestion of delaying the election – which is a "fantasy" – but his latest claim that voting by mail is rife with fraud, according to Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Marymount University and a constitutional law expert.
"This is yet another example of the president seeking to delegitimize the election process before it happens," Levitt said. "That is deeply destabilizing."
A Republican close to the White House was stunned at the tweet, noting that it followed a period of stability in which Trump has stayed on message in response to advice from new campaign manager Bill Stepien and senior campaign manager Jason Miller.
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"Obviously he just can't help himself. This is starting to look like a real campaign, and then he does this," the Republican source said. "It's awful. It's starting to look like he doesn't even want to win."
The White House referred questions about the tweet to Trump's re-election campaign.
"The President is just raising a question about the chaos Democrats have created with their insistence on all mail-in voting," said Hogan Gidley, the campaign's press secretary. "Universal mail-in voting invites chaos and severe delays in results."
Ari Fleischer, who was White House press secretary under Republican President George W. Bush, said Trump should delete the tweet.
"This is not an idea anyone, especially POTUS, should float. Our democracy is based on elections in which everyone knows the rules and they apply to all," Fleischer said. "Mr. President - please don't even pretend to mess with this. It's a harmful idea."
Polls have shown that U.S. registered voters oppose an election delay. When Reuters/Ipsos in April asked voters if they thought the election should be rescheduled due to the coronavirus, 59% opposed the idea, including a majority in each party.
A Biden campaign official called Trump's tweet an obvious ploy to distract from the awful GDP numbers.
"We're going to keep our eye on the ball," the Biden campaign official said.
Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's voting rights project, said Trump lacked the authority to reschedule an election.
"This is America," Ho said. "We are a democracy, not a dictatorship. The Constitution sets the date for the election in November. Nothing President Trump says, does, or tweets can change that fact."