More Than Just a Tweet: Trump’s Campaign to Undercut Democracy

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Andrew Jackson, who won the popular vote and had the most Electoral College votes in 1824 but not a majority in a four-way race, ended up losing to John Quincy Adams when the House decided the matter. Jackson spent the next four years accusing Adams of a making a “corrupt bargain” to secure the support of the third-place candidate, Henry Clay, in exchange for appointment as secretary of state. Jackson got his revenge by beating Adams in an 1828 rematch.

Likewise, Democrats complained when Rutherford B. Hayes won in a disputed election in 1876, calling him Rutherfraud B. Hayes and His Fraudulency. Republicans suspected that John F. Kennedy beat Richard M. Nixon in 1960 thanks to vote fraud in Texas and Illinois, and many Democrats never accepted George W. Bush’s victory over Al Gore in 2000 after the Florida recount was halted by the Supreme Court.

But the complaints do not typically come from the Oval Office, especially before an election has even been held. And no sitting president has made a serious effort to delay his own re-election, not even Abraham Lincoln in 1864 during the Civil War or Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944 during World War II. Elections were held as scheduled during the pandemics of 1918 and 1968, as well.

Ronald C. White, a prominent Lincoln biographer, noted that the 16th president did not try to postpone the election even though he thought he was likely to lose. Instead, he made it possible for soldiers in the field to cast their ballots, recognizing that they might support their former general, George B. McClellan, who was his Democratic challenger.

“Even as the pandemic, economic collapse and racial protests have Trump calling himself a wartime president, the real wartime president, Lincoln, determined that the election of 1864 must go forward as a sign that the Union would go forward,” Mr. White said.

Jill Lepore, a Harvard University professor and the author of “These Truths: A History of the United States,” said presidents bear a responsibility to foster faith in democracy.

“Far from undermining public confidence in the democracy over which he presides, it is the obligation of every president to cultivate that confidence by guaranteeing voting rights, by condemning foreign interference in American political campaigns, by promoting free, safe and secure elections, and by abiding by their outcome,” she said.

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