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Trump and Biden should stop denigrating US elections

Former President Trump handed control of the Senate to Democrats when his election-eve speech in Atlanta convinced enough voters to stay home because Georgia’s election system supposedly was “rigged.” Both incumbent Republicans lost. Trump convinced one, Sonny Perdue, to challenge GOP Gov. Brian Kemp’s reelection effort this year as punishment for not reversing Joe Biden’s victory. Trump even said progressive Democrat Stacey Abrams, defeated by Kemp in 2018, would have been a better governor — perhaps because, like Trump, she has refused to concede her loss and alleges election fraud.

In his inaugural address, President Biden proclaimed, “This is a great nation, and we are a good people.” Well, he didn’t mean all of us; he lamented “a rise in political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism.” Still, he offered a salve for the nation’s political wounds: “Today, on this January day, my whole soul is in this: bringing America together. Uniting our people and uniting our nation. I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy.”

But on a January day a year later, Biden seemed to have concluded that unity is indeed “a foolish fantasy.” Like Trump, he spoke in Atlanta — “the cradle of civil rights”— to advocate for election reform legislation and changes to Senate rules, including ending the filibuster that he supported as a senator and vice president. But now he had harsh words for those who still share his own long-held position: “At consequential moments in history, they present a choice: Do you want to be … on the side of Dr. [Martin Luther] King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?”

Republicans, many with long records of supporting civil rights, were outraged by the comparisons that Biden offered. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused Biden of calling him and his colleagues “racists” and “traitors,” and said the attack was “beneath the dignity of the presidency.” Even Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said Biden went “a little too far” with his anti-GOP rhetoric. The White House later “clarified” that Biden was not accusing his former Senate colleagues of racism — only that history will judge them unkindly for having aligned themselves with racists.

The back-and-forth was reminiscent of the 2019 Democratic debate when the shoe was on the other foot and Biden was accused by then-fellow candidate Kamala Harris of racial insensitivity.  

“I’m going to now direct this at Vice President Biden,” she said. “I do not believe you are a racist, and I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground. But … it’s personal. … And it was hurtful to hear you talk about [working with] two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country. … [Y]ou also worked with them to oppose busing. … Do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America then?” 

Biden responded: “I did not oppose busing in America. What I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education. … [Y]our city council made that decision. It was a local decision.”

In his Atlanta speech, Biden took the opposite approach on the issue of federalism and election integrity, arguing that Republican state and local officials cannot be trusted to conduct free and fair elections — the same argument that Trump has made for several years against both Democratic and Republican officials. As Trump did in 2016 and 2020, Biden is preemptively declaring the likelihood of fraud in the 2022 and 2024 elections: “Now Republican legislatures in several states have already announced plans to escalate the onslaught this year. Their endgame: to turn the will of voters into a mere suggestion, something states can respect or ignore. It’s no longer about who gets to vote. It’s about making it harder to vote; it’s about who gets to count the vote.”    

Asked after his speech if he can trust the integrity of upcoming elections, Biden said, “Some of this is being set up to alter the outcome of the election. … I’m not saying it’s going to be legit. … The increase in the prospect of being illegitimate is in direct proportion to us not being able to get these reforms passed.”

Yet, in his earlier debate with Harris, Biden said,  “I’ve also argued very strongly that we, in fact, deal with the notion of denying people access to the ballot box. I agree that everybody, once they, in fact … anyway, my time is up. I’m sorry.” What would his uncompleted thought have had voters do — “once they …” what? Vote only in person? Show a voter ID? Confirm their citizenship and residency eligibility?

Some Democrats have expressed concern that Biden’s preemptive allegations of election fraud uncomfortably echo Trump’s incessant claims and could have the effect of suppressing voter turnout, as Republicans discovered in Georgia. Yet, since both parties now have expressed similar concerns, an independent, bipartisan review of perceived problems and potential solutions would seem in order.   

A starting point could be the 2005 report of the bipartisan Commission on Federal Election Reform, co-chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker. It examined the U.S. electoral process and recommended ways to maximize ballot access and ensure election integrity — that is, to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat. It concluded that “absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud.”  

The pandemic-imposed proliferation of mail-in voting in 2020 prompted legitimate concerns and cynical conspiracy theories that Trump eagerly exploited. A new bipartisan commission should update the Carter-Baker findings and make non-binding recommendations for the states’ consideration, such as free voter ID cards; making Election Day a national holiday; extending in-person voting to the preceding Saturday, Sunday and Monday; and requiring mail-in ballots to be postmarked no earlier than the day after the last presidential debate.

Trump has urged Republicans to boycott the 2022 and 2024 elections if his 2020 defeat is not overturned — which would reprise the Georgia fiasco, potentially across the country. In his Atlanta speech and subsequently, Biden did his part to undermine public confidence in America’s elections. Both men’s reckless charges bolster the argument of Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin that Western democracy belongs on the ash heap of history.

Joseph Bosco served as China country director for the secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2006 and as Asia-Pacific director of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief from 2009 to 2010. He is a nonresident fellow at the Institute for Corean-American Studies and a member of the advisory board of the Global Taiwan Institute. Follow him on Twitter @BoscoJosephA.

Tags 2022 elections 2024 presidential election Brian Kemp Donald Trump election fraud claims Jimmy Carter Joe Biden John Lewis mail-in voting Mitch McConnell Sonny Perdue Vladimir Putin

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Regular the hill posts

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File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)
In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)

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