President Donald Trump used the final rally of his extended campaign trip in the West to sow doubt in the results of the Nevada caucuses before they even came in.
Trump spoke on Friday, on the eve of the Nevada Democratic caucuses, in Las Vegas despite the state’s Republican Party having cancelled the GOP caucuses.
Although his remarks contained many elements of his stump speech that have now become familiar, from jokes about staying in office for more than two terms to his disdain for the Oscar-winning film Parasite, the goal of the first part of the president’s speech was clear: To delegitimize the results of the third contest in the Democratic Party’s presidential nominating process.
“You know, they say they’re gonna have a lot of problems tomorrow,” Trump said. “I hate to tell you this. I don’t know. Have you heard? I hear their computers are all messed up, just like they were in Iowa. They’re not going to be able to count their vote.”
Trump preemptively pushes conspiracy theories about problems with the Nevada Democratic caucus, which happens tomorrow: "They say they will have a lot of problems and I hate to tell you this. Have you heard? I heard their computers are messed up." pic.twitter.com/w0OkvKaU8i— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 21, 2020
While it is true there have been some concerns Nevada’s Democratic Party could run into some challenges with reporting its results, the party has been hard at work to make to its caucuses process to ensure its results are reported both accurately, and in a timely manner.
After Iowa Democrats revealed technological and human errors led to a delay in their ability to report results of their caucuses, Nevada ditched its plan to use the same technology for its contest. The state party initially substituted the app its Iowa counterpart used for a reporting strategy reliant on Google Forms. A day before the caucuses, however, precinct leaders were ordered to deliver the results by phone — the way it’s been done for decades.
The president did not mention these efforts, however. And his attack on the process marks the continuation of a tactic he has utilized in the past, according to Vox’s Aaron Rupar: On the eve of the New Hampshire primary, Trump held a rally in the state and tried to preemptively delegitimize those results by promoting conspiracy theories that claim the Democratic Party is rigging the election against national frontrunner Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
“I think they’re trying to take it away from Bernie again. I think Bernie came in second. Can you believe it?” Trump said when talking about the delayed Iowa results. “They’re doing it to you again, Bernie! They’re doing it to you again.”
Following the problems of the Iowa caucuses, there’s a lot of pressure to get things done right in Nevada. Trump’s cynical predictions of failure simply adds to that burden in an unhelpful, undemocratic way.
Trump tried to pin Russia’s election interference on Sanders
Trump also used the rally as an opportunity to berate Democrats for US intelligence that found Russia wants to get him re-elected.
“I think they’re starting another one. Did you see that? I see these phonies, these — the Do-nothing Democrats,” he said. “They said today that ‘[Russian President Vladimir] Putin wants to be sure that Trump gets elected.’ Here we go again ... Aren’t people bored?”
TRUMP: "I see these phonies, the do nothing Democrats, they said today that Putin wants to be sure that Trump gets elected. Here we go again ... doesn't [Putin] want to see who the Democrat is going to be? Wouldn't he rather have Bernie, who honeymooned in Moscow?" pic.twitter.com/zG8runP75L— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 21, 2020
Again, this is information did not come from Democrats, but from his own intelligence community. Senior US intelligence official Shelby Pierson briefed the House Intelligence Committee on Russia’s preference toward Trump and their plans to meddle in future elections last week. Reportedly in retaliation for this briefing, Trump removed the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire.
While the president has made his distaste for the report of Russia’s meddling in favor of his campaign clear, that did not stop him from maligning a rival’s ties to Russia, claiming Putin would rather see Bernie win, repeating the false claim that the senator “honeymooned in Moscow.” (Sanders visited the USSR shortly after his wedding, but did not honeymoon there.)
It is not clear that Putin favors Sander over Trump, but Sanders did say on Friday that he was briefed about a month ago about Russian efforts to help his presidential campaign, according to The Washington Post. It is not yet clear just how Russia is attempting to aid the senator’s campaign, but his message to them was clear: “stay out of American elections.”
“And what they are doing, by the way, the ugly thing that they are doing, and I’ve seen some of their tweets and stuff, is they try to divide us up,” Sanders said in a statement. “That’s what they did in 2016 and that is the ugliest thing they are doing — is they are trying to cause chaos, they are trying to cause hatred in America.”
Trump’s targeting of Sanders, however, is more than just mere concern of Russian election interference. It is part of a dangerous pattern of the president sowing electoral doubts in a manner that could strain the democratic process come November, particularly if the general election is contested due to a narrow loss.