Are Democrats using the COVID-19 pandemic to rig the 2020 election against President Trump?

Are Democrats using the COVID-19 pandemic to rig the 2020 election against President Trump?
Source: Doug Mills / NYT

In a presidential election year, politicians and pundits tend to view everything through a political lens. It is standard practice for talking heads and opinion writers to discuss what an event – a mass shooting, a natural disaster, even a hypothetical giant meteor – means for the election. It is, thus, inevitable that people are filtering the COVID-19 pandemic through this same political lens.

Rather than acting as a referendum on the leadership ability of President Donald Trump, though, some conservative commentators have framed the ongoing crisis as a political distraction by the Democratic Party.

These pundits aren’t directly arguing the coronavirus – which is responsible for over 160,000 American deaths – is fake. They argue instead that the risk of the virus has been overhyped to give former Vice President Joe Biden cover and to use mail-in voting to steal the election.

“The greatest rigging of an American election”

Multiple conservative pundits, as well as Trump himself, have stated that the media and Democrats are conspiring together to rig the election. The president and his allies have been arguing since well before COVID-19 reached the United States that there would be attempts to steal the election from him through various means.

The most recent line of argument, as articulated by popular conservative pundit (and one-time anti-Trump blogger) Candace Owens, is that the COVID-19 crisis is merely a tactic to rig the 2020 election. In an interview with the Daily Caller posted on August 4, she stated, “This is the greatest rigging of an American election that we are all playing a part in right now.”

As Owens frames it, the Democrats’ coronavirus-based strategy is threefold: hide Biden from the public, keep Trump from traveling and having campaign events and swap in-person voting for mail-in voting. She then claims – without evidence – that mail-in voting is corrupt and “allows for tons of rigging.”

In reality, multiple states do election voting exclusively by mail without increased voter fraud.

Keeping Trump from his public

Both Trump and his campaign have made the cognitive ability of both candidates a frequent talking point in this election. Conservatives have argued Biden is in cognitive decline, which is why Democrats don’t want him doing public events. Alternatively, Trump has bragged about passing a test designed to check for signs of dementia, stating that he is in top cognitive shape.

Trump, who is said to “thrive” in the energetic rally environment, has been mostly stymied in his attempts to hold rallies since the pandemic hit the US in March. Rallies planned for New Hampshire and Alabama were canceled over COVID-19 fears. Trump has also canceled part of the Republican National Convention that was to be held in Jacksonville, Florida.

It isn’t clear if Owens believes Democrats are to blame for those cancellations, as all three states have a Republican governor.

Trump has been able to hold a few public events this summer. The first was in June, when Trump held a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It wound up being poorly attended after the campaign boasted of a record high number of ticket reservations.

After the rally, a surge in COVID-19 cases in Tulsa was blamed on the gathering, in which most attendees did not wear masks. Additionally, Herman Cain, a prominent Black conservative and supporter of Trump who once ran for president, died of COVID-19 a little over a month after attending the Tulsa rally.

Trump also spoke on two successive days over the Fourth of July weekend, the first at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota on July 3 and the second back in Washington, DC on Independence Day.

Both speeches were labeled “divisive” in media reports, but while COVID-19 cases have continued to rise across the country over the last month, no outbreaks were directly linked to those two events.

The effect of the coronavirus on the presidential election

Despite the questionable premises of Owens’ argument, which suggests that the pandemic has been orchestrated and manipulated by one US political party, it is indisputable that COVID-19 will have an effect on the 2020 election.

As Owens alluded to, there is indeed a push in many states for more mail-in voting. Trump and other conservatives have argued that this could delegitimize the election and lead to increased voter fraud. Democrats and election officials have countered that voting by mail is already commonly used without issue.

Still, there are concerns that the US Postal Service could struggle to handle the increased mail load with more voters mailing ballots than ever before. This is in part due to the organization facing a funding shortage under the current Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy. DeJoy is a Trump ally who has recently shaken up the leadership at the USPS, including removing two top officials.

Furthermore, this election will look considerably different with both parties’ conventions being upended by the pandemic. Biden and all Democratic speakers will give their speeches virtually from August 17-20, though there will still be a limited in-person convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The Republican National Convention remains scheduled for August 24-27 in Charlotte, North Carolina, but Trump will not be in attendance. On Monday, August 10, Trump tweeted that he would be choosing between two possible locations for delivering his speech accepting the nomination of his party for president – Gettysburg, Pennsylvania or the White House.

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