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The Morning Dispatch: Is Trump Sowing Seeds of Electoral Doubt?
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The Morning Dispatch: Is Trump Sowing Seeds of Electoral Doubt?

Plus, analyzing the president's comments about doing 'too good a job' on coronavirus testing.

Happy Tuesday! We are reserving judgment on the news that Major League Baseball will kick off a 60-game season around July 24 until it becomes clear whether the commissioner is—through a cheap, backdoor maneuver—foisting the monstrosity that is the designated hitter upon the sanctity of the National League.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • As of Monday night, 2,311,997 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the United States (an increase of 32,122 from yesterday) and 120,402 deaths have been attributed to the virus (an increase of 433 from yesterday), according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, leading to a mortality rate among confirmed cases of 5.2 percent (the true mortality rate is likely much lower, between 0.4 percent and 1.4 percent, but it’s impossible to determine precisely due to incomplete testing regimens). Of 27,553,581 coronavirus tests conducted in the United States (468,681 conducted since yesterday), 8.4 percent have come back positive.

  • President Trump signed an executive order extending the suspension of certain worker visas through the end of 2020. The order includes a temporary ban on H-1B and H-2B visas, but exempts workers with a “nexus to the food-supply chain.”

  • The Trump administration has designated four Chinese media organizations operating in the United States as “foreign missions,” with State Department officials saying the move is intended to emphasize to Americans that the sources operate as arms of the Chinese Communist Party. The action comes on the heels of the administration’s February designation of five other Chinese media companies as state-run operations.

  • President Trump clarified his stance toward Venezuela on Monday, tweeting that the only context in which he would meet with the country’s dictator Nicolas Maduro would be “to discuss one thing: a peaceful exit from power.” Trump told Axios last week he would “maybe think about” meeting with Maduro, and expressed some doubt about his previous decision to recognize Juan Guaidó as the legitimate Venezuelan president.

  • Ethan Melzer, a 22-year-old U.S. Army soldier, has been charged with conspiring to “orchestrate a murderous ambush on his own unit by unlawfully revealing its location, strength and armaments to a neo-Nazi, anarchist, white supremacist group,” according to a press release from Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss. Melzer is alleged to be a member of the Order of Nine Angles (09A), a violent Satanic neo-Nazi organization.

  • Citing coronavirus concerns, the University of Michigan reportedly pulled out of hosting a Trump-Biden debate that was scheduled to take place on its Ann Arbor campus in October. The debate will be moved to Miami, per the New York Times.

Is Team Trump Trying to Sow Seeds of Electoral Doubt?

The last time President Trump took to Twitter to make unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud, the tech platform slapped a fact-check tag on the post and it sparked a several-day news cycle about online moderation and internet liability. On Monday morning, he went back to the well.

Twitter held off this time around, but experts have routinely debunked claims like the president’s, that mail-in ballots increase voter fraud. Some even argue distributing paper ballots through the mail could help ensure more accurate election results.

“Those concerned about fraud affecting the legitimacy of elections have a real worry that is being directed at the wrong target. The greatest problem, in terms of sheer numbers that could affect electoral outcomes, is electronic meddling by hackers that could affect thousands or tens of thousands of voter rolls or ballots,” Rachel Kleinfeld—a founding CEO of the Truman National Security Project and senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace—told The Dispatch. “Improved software and paper ballots are the best cures, and mail-in voting necessarily provides paper ballots, so it actually decreases mass fraud.”

Norman Ornstein—a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute specializing in politics and elections—argued the United States needs to iron out the kinks in our election system, and quickly. “In-person voting in the midst of a pandemic is likely to be dangerous and disruptive, as we have already seen in Wisconsin and Georgia,” he told The Dispatch. “Vote by mail is a necessary adjunct, expanded sharply. We need to find ways to enable eligible voters to cast their ballots without fear of getting sick or waiting in lines for hours. Expanded voting by mail is a necessary avenue in the age of COVID.” 

Intentional or not, Trump’s rhetoric Monday is of a piece with comments elsewhere in his orbit that—when taken together—seem to be laying the groundwork to question the legitimacy of the November election. Attorney General William Barr claimed in a Fox News interview that mail-in voting “absolutely opens the floodgates to fraud” and that foreign countries could “print up tens of thousands of counterfeit ballots” making it “very hard for us to detect which was the right and which was the wrong ballot.” The campaign threatened CNN with legal action earlier this month, claiming the network had engaged in “voter suppression” by publishing poll results showing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden ahead by 14 points.

This rhetoric from both the Trump campaign and administration has ratcheted up as general election polling has turned against the president. Former Vice President Joe Biden currently holds a 9.1-point lead over Trump in FiveThirtyEight’s general election polling average, and Biden is outpacing him in several key battleground states—Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania—that, were they to flip blue in 2020, would return the White House to the Democrats.

Biden has also expressed unease over the integrity of the vote, telling Comedy Central’s Trevor Noah recently his “single greatest concern” is that Trump is “going to try to steal this election.” “This is a guy who said that all mail-in ballots are fraudulent,” Biden continued, “while he sits behind a desk in the Oval Office and writes his mail-in ballot to vote in a primary.” (Trump—along with Barr, Vice President Mike Pence, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, campaign manager Brad Parscale, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, and other members of the president’s Cabinet and campaign team—have all voted by mail in the past, per the Washington Post.)

President Trump, for his part, dismissed concerns that he wouldn’t respect the result of the election. “Certainly, if I don’t win, I don’t win,” he told Fox News’ Harris Faulkner in an interview earlier this month. “You go on, do other things.”

With COVID Surging, Trump Insists ‘We’ve Done Too Good a Job’

The early response to the pandemic in the United States was defined by a shortage of testing. Now that testing has vastly increased, here’s a question that’s worth revisiting: What exactly is coronavirus testing for?

Among the most important answers, of course, is the public health purpose: Accurate knowledge of the location of current coronavirus cases is critical for everything from contact tracing to economic reopening timelines. But tests are also important politically: In a sense, they function as COVID report cards, giving us benchmarks by which to assess the policy response of our elected leaders.

For months, it’s been painfully obvious that it’s the latter sense that chiefly preoccupies our optics-driven president. Time after time, Trump has demonstrated his reluctance to take measures that would give a more accurate picture of how many Americans are infected if those measures would also make the overall U.S. numbers seem more dire.

This impulse was apparent already back in early March, when Trump commented that he’d rather passengers on a COVID-infested cruise ship not be allowed to disembark “because I like the numbers being where they are—I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.”

In late April, after Dr. Anthony Fauci told Time that the U.S. still needed to “significantly ramp up” test capacity, Trump publicly disagreed, saying that “we’re doing a great job on testing.”

“The media likes to say we have the most cases, but we do, by far, the most testing. If we did very little testing, we wouldn’t have the most cases,” he said. “So in a way, by doing all of this testing, we make ourselves look bad.”

Until recently, it seemed a safe bet that this was simply Trump blowing steam—doing some armchair punditry that wasn’t actually affecting the way he ran his COVID response. Then, at last weekend’s rally, he said something much more unnerving.

“When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people. You’re going to find more cases,” he said. “So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please!’”

If that were accurate, it would of course be a major problem. Soothingly low false testing numbers don’t help the country, accurate ones—even if frightening—do. The White House, naturally, went into full damage control: Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and trade adviser Peter Navarro both said Trump was simply joking.

Asked straight up whether he had actually asked staff to slow down the numbers in a Monday interview, however, Trump didn’t answer the question directly. Instead, repeated his frequent—but false—claim that we are doing the most testing and he tripled down on his complaint that too much testing was making the country look bad.

“We do more testing than any country in the world by far. … Every time you do a test, as you do more tests, it shows more and more cases. … If we did slow it down, we wouldn’t show nearly as many cases. You’re showing people that are asymptomatic, you’re showing people that have very little problem. You’re showing young people that don’t have a problem.”

“But did you ask to slow it down?” the reporter persisted.

“Uh … If it did slow down, frankly, I think we’re way ahead of ourselves, if you want to know the truth,” Trump replied. “We’ve done too good a job.”

Although testing continues to tick up steadily, it’s still short of where many experts think it will need to be in order to allow the economy to fully and safely reopen pending a widely available vaccine. Furthermore, our testing effort is losing ground against the virus again, as new hotspots in reopened states like Florida begin to grow far more quickly than our test capacity does.

Solving that problem will be difficult. A president who thinks we’re testing too much as it is won’t be leading the charge.

Worth Your Time

  • The Washington Post has a profile of New York City paramedic Anthony Almojera that offers a grim portrait of the life of New York EMTs in the midst of the ongoing pandemic. “I woke up this morning to about 60 new text messages from paramedics who are barely holding it together,” he says. “Some are still sick with the virus. At one point we had 25 percent of EMTs in the city out sick. Others are living in their cars so they don’t risk bringing it home to their families. They’re depressed. They’re emotionally exhausted.”

  • We wrote last week about recent shakeups at the U.S. Agency for Global Media. Anne Applebaum’s latest piece for The Atlantic will take you even deeper. Voice of America—a U.S. government-funded media organization that broadcasts news all over the world—has long enjoyed editorial independence from the particular presidential administration in power at any given moment. But a Trump loyalist’s recent overhaul of the organization raises a number of concerns, which Applebaum explores at length in the article. “Successive White Houses tried to shape the broadcasters in various ways, and sometimes became annoyed by the output of one network or another,” she writes. “Until this week, however, no U.S. administration had actually set out to destroy America’s international broadcasters or remove their independence. But now, finally, one has.”

  • Dan McLaughlin’s Father’s Day essay in National Review is titled: What I Learned from My Dad, the Cop. “He loved the cops and the job, but he was also cynical about bureaucracy and realistic about people,” McLaughlin writes. “He’d tell me something along the lines of ‘the NYPD is 25,000 of the best men you’ll ever meet, but there are 35,000 cops.’ By which he didn’t mean all the rest were necessarily jackbooted villains; some were lazy, some were on the take, some were just bad coworkers or bosses who knew how to play the system. Just like anywhere else.” It’s about police, yes, but it’s also just a lovely story of a son’s love for his father.

Something Moving

NASCAR announced Sunday that a noose was found in the garage stall of Bubba Wallace, the sport’s only black driver. It happened days after NASCAR banned the Confederate flag from its events, and Wallace painted “Black Lives Matter” on his car.

Yesterday, this happened:

Presented Without Comment

Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Check out the latest episode of Advisory Opinions for an extended discussion of the nuances of presidential rally crowd sizes, Bill Barr’s controversial firing of a U.S. Attorney in New York, the Trump administration’s lawsuit regarding John Bolton’s book, and a recap of last week’s Supreme Court cases.

  • We’ve been hearing its juiciest details for almost a week now, but today is the day that John Bolton’s memoir, The Room Where It Happened, officially hits bookstores. Steve reviews it and says the “power of the book lies less in attention-grabbing disclosure than in the relentless, almost mundane stupidity and recklessness of it all.”

  • The Trump administration might have failed in its legal battle to keep Bolton’s book from being sold, but Jack Goldsmith writes that the administration actually actually won a lot from its request.

Let Us Know

It’s still a little more than four months away, but Election Day 2020 will be here before we all know it. Are you concerned about the actual voting process this year? Will our nation’s polarization and distrust manifest itself in ugly ways? Or will things go off without a hitch?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Nate Hochman (@njhochman), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photograph by George Frey/Getty Images.