Below is my column in The Hill on a conspiracy theory being pushed by presumptive Democratic nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden that President Trump is going to order a halt to the November election. This Sunday, one of the frontrunners for the Vice President slot, Stacey Abrams, was pressed by CNN’s Jake Tapper on Biden’s view that Trump will use the Post Office to delay the election. Tapper did an excellent job in pursuing a direct answer and Abrams insisted it is “not a conspiracy theory” and repeated the nebulous connection to the postal service. It is a conspiracy theory and, as I stated yesterday, passing around the tin foil hats is hardly a recommendation for vice president. Most striking is that, after bizarrely insisting that this was a credible theory on CNN, NBC’s Chuck Todd did not even ask her about it in a low-impact interview. Many of us have been critical of the failure of some Trump supporters to call out the President over such indefensible statements as his disinfectant comments (and later clearly untrue denial). The same is true for Democrats who ignore bizarre or untrue statements like this one from their leaders.
Here is the column:
If there are two words that have become a virtual mantra in the media during the last three years under President Trump, they would be “conspiracy theory.” The conspiracy theory label is a wonderful device to attack political opponents. It not only suggests something is objectively untrue but that the person responsible for it is unhinged and unreliable. When Republican members of Congress suggested two months ago that the coronavirus might have come from a research lab in Wuhan, for instance, it was widely denounced as a conspiracy theory, even though some intelligence officials believe the theory is credible.
Unsurprisingly, it is a term almost exclusively reserved in the media for Trump and his supporters. That was evident this week when the ultimate conspiracy theory was voiced by presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who warned that he was certain Trump plans to delay the election this fall. It is a conspiracy theory that is utterly without factual or constitutional support, yet his warning was deemed a “prediction” in a recent article by Politico. It has been peddled by various Democratic figures and commentators for months and is all the rage on the internet, even though it should be sold as a set that includes a tin foil hat and an electromagnetic ghost detector.
Biden left little doubt of such a plan by Trump. He said, “Mark my words, I think he is going to try to kick back the election somehow, and come up with some rationale why it cannot be held.” It is just the type of thing that a crazed guy in a tightly buttoned raincoat whispers to you on the subway. But Biden was not finished. If you attended a recent online fundraiser, it probably felt like you could not change your seat as Biden grew uncomfortably close and went on to explain that it was the Postal Service which revealed the conspiracy theory to him.
Biden alleged that the administration is pressuring the Postal Service to make changes in its operations as a condition for coronavirus relief. As Biden explained, “Imagine threatening not to fund the post office. Other than trying to let the word out that he is going to do all he can to make it very hard for people to vote, that is the only way he thinks he can possibly win.” The other way would be that his opponent flees to the desert to live in a bunker and protect his mail and “precious bodily fluids.”
Let us address the mail connection. For years, Trump has been a critic of the Postal Service as being an institution that repeatedly required bailouts due to running huge deficits. He wants the Postal Service to agree to raise fees for mass shippers like Amazon before it can ask for another federal subsidy. That would have no impact on voting, including mail voting, in the election. Any change in its operations would not impact such things as regular mail this year.
Now for a constitutional reality check. Elections are managed by the states and not the federal government under Article Two. The date of the presidential election is set by federal law and not subject to an executive order. Even war or martial law does not suspend the date of the presidential election. Since 1845, Congress has mandated that the presidential election be held the Tuesday after the first Monday in November every four years. In order to change that date, Trump would have to have both chambers of Congress vote to do so.
Finally, any delay in the election would also collide with the 20th Amendment, which extinguishes the power of the prior president at noon on January 20. Even if Trump persuaded Congress to delay the election past that date, his term still constitutionally ends on that date unless he is reelected. In other words, if Trump tried to stay in office past noon on January 20 if he loses, he would have to join Biden on the subway and whisper to people that he is still the president. Of course, this conspiracy theory is tame compared to other conspiracy theories from some critics.
Yale University professor Bandy Lee said Trump plans for more than an effective coup and instead plans for a massacre. I have criticized her for calling for such nonexistent and nonsensical actions as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “putting a medical hold” on Trump. Such views are published without the type of scrutiny they normally would warrant. Now Lee is warning that Trump is using subconscious techniques to send “armed troops in the streets,” a technique she explains is used with “child soldiers.”
Lee details how Trump has been testing people for “loyalty to the laws of his mind over the laws of nature, or even impulse for survival” and “the more he abuses them, the greater their devotion grows.” Why is Trump preparing this army of millions of amoral zombies? Because she warned, “We would be mistaken to believe he will leave, or even let a losing election happen in the first place.” He is not just preparing them for his notorious brag about committing a murder on Fifth Avenue but for a “whole massacre.”
Her bizarre views were featured in a recent interview with Salon without a hint of skepticism let alone scrutiny. A professor who matter of factly described a president refusing to give up office and preparing for a massacre was perfectly sound to publish online. The media also reported that Lee previously briefed Democratic lawmakers on the need to remove Trump as being mentally ill and has insisted that if Trump were not president, his “out of touch responses to reality warranted hospitalization or transfer to a nursing home.”
Yet somehow Lee and others apparently do not believe hospitalization is needed for a presidential candidate who thinks there is a conspiracy to control the Postal Service in order to block the next election. In their minds, that is not an “out of touch response to reality.” It is simply a “prediction.” None of this will help if you encounter Biden and he is still hot on his Postal Service conspiracy theory. In that event, it is simply better to avoid eye contact, nod in agreement, and say that you use Federal Express.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates online @JonathanTurley.