I’m hoping to offer a few posts in the coming days and weeks concerning Donald Trump’s recent rantings about democracy and electoral fairness, which I view as both disingenuous and contrived. So here is something that caught my eye.
Politico is reporting that some Republican convention delegates are receiving death threats from supporters of Trump. The threats, it seems, are designed to send the message to delegates that they must support Trump, or else. To be clear, there is no reporting suggesting that the threats are coming from anyone inside, or directly connected to, the Trump campaign. Still, these threats should come as no surprise, in light of the violence that has erupted at Trump’s campaign rallies this cycle and the public statements that Trump has made seeming to encourage violence against protesters. Trump has also called for killing the families (the wives and children) of terrorists, and has complained that America is not more like ISIL in its brutality (he uses ISIL’s brutality as a justification for more brutal interrogation tactics on our part). It has become hard to disentangle Trump and his campaign from unlawful violence.
To my knowledge, Trump has not condemned these threats against delegates. He should, for multiple reasons.
First, it is a federal crime, punishable by up to five years in prison, to “transmit in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat . . . to injure the person of another.” 18 U.S.C. 875(c). It is also a federal crime to forcibly, or by threat of force, willfully injure, intimidate, or interfere with, or attempt to injure, intimidate, or interfere with, any person because of his or her voting or where the person is a legally authorized election official. 18 U.S.C. 245(b)(1)(A). A killing is punishable by death, bodily injury is punishable by up to ten years. 18 U.S.C. 245(b)(5).
It is a serious offense, and violation of civil rights, to try to threaten or intimidate someone on account of their role in selecting the President. If Trump were to be elected President, it would be his responsibility to oversee the Justice Department, and the people there, who would be responsible for prosecuting these very kinds of actions. His failure to condemn it now will reduce his credibility on these issues if he becomes President.
Second, Trump has made much of his newfound affinity for electoral fairness. Surely someone as committed to fair – and not at all corrupt – election procedures as Trump would want to ensure that any votes he received from convention delegates were not obtained as a result of coercion or threats. Therefore, in order for Trump’s disdain for corruption and unfairness to be credible, he should openly condemn any and all such threats. Indeed, Trump should disavow – and instruct the convention’s presiding officer to refuse to count – any vote in his favor where there is reason to believe that vote was obtained by threats or coercion. After all, Trump wants the process to be fair, right?
Finally, many notable moments in the life of Trump’s campaign thus far have centered upon his encouragement of either private or public violence. If he is truly interested in pivoting to a more statesmanlike posture, he would do well to articulate limits upon when private and public violence are appropriate.
Of course, one thing we know about Trump is that limits – restraint – are not a part of his public persona, nor do words about limits or restraint form any part of his regular vocabulary. And there is ample reason to doubt his stated love for direct democracy and ample reason to roll our eyes at his incessant whining about a “rigged” process. Does anyone seriously doubt that if the shoe was on the other foot – say, Ted Cruz had won more delegates through the popular vote, but Trump were able to pick off many unbound delegates to support him – that Trump would be the very first person to praise the existing system as fair? The system is “rigged” against Trump only, in his mind, when he is not winning over delegates. Yet he has won a greater percentage of delegates than he has won votes from voters. Such a system is hardly rigged against him.
Trump can continue whining about the selection process, and I suspect he will. But surely even Trump cannot countenance a process in which he benefits from tactics that would yield votes in his favor simply because the voter fears that he will be killed if he does not vote for Trump. And that is something far more worthy of condemnation than the current delegate selection system.