Sen. Bernie Sanders speaking earlier this year in Burlington
In a speech on Thursday from a Washington, D.C., auditorium, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) warned that President Donald Trump is working to undermine the upcoming election, an effort that Sanders said voters must resoundingly reject.
“As someone who is strongly supporting Joe Biden,” Sanders said, “let’s be clear: A landslide victory for Biden will make it virtually impossible for Trump to deny the results and is our best means for defending democracy.”
“We’re going to have to see what happens,” Trump said on Wednesday in response to a reporter’s question. “You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster. We want to get rid of the ballots, and you’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation.”
Trump has long complained of voter fraud, even disputing the results of the 2016 election — which he won — because he lost the popular vote by 3 million ballots. And this year, with more people than ever expected to vote by mail because of the coronavirus pandemic, Trump has repeatedly sought to poison the well with claims that people will vote twice or foreign adversaries will send in counterfeit ballots.
At last month's Republican National Convention, the president went as far as to say that “the only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election.”
That sentiment drew a sharp rebuke on Thursday from Sanders.
"What he is saying is that if he wins the election, that's great," Sanders said. "But if he loses, it’s rigged, because the only way, the only way, he can lose is if it's rigged.
"And if it’s rigged, then he is not leaving office. Heads, I win. Tails, you lose. In other words, in Trump's mind, there is no conceivable way that he should leave office."
Noting that Trump is a “pathological liar” with “authoritarian tendencies,” Sanders argued that “this is an election between Donald Trump and democracy — and democracy must win.”
“Today, under Donald Trump, we have a president who has little respect for our Constitution or the rule of law,” Sanders said. “Today, that peaceful transition of power, the bedrock of American democracy, is being threatened like never before.”
Sanders delivered his speech about 40 days before the November 3 presidential election and at a particularly fraught time in Washington. The death last week of Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has prompted Senate Republicans to promise to consider, and vote on, a Trump-nominated replacement in the weeks before the election.
Top Republicans have made clear that having a ninth, tie-breaking justice on the court is a priority ahead of an election that could involve legal challenges to mailed ballots.
That potential justice would need to go before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) sits on, before a floor vote to confirm him or her. The panel met on Thursday morning, and Leahy made clear his displeasure with the party currently in power.
"There can be no doubt that the president is counting on his nominee to help deliver him the White House from behind the bench," Leahy said. "That alone will result in a crisis of legitimacy for the court — and possibly for the republic — with unfathomable consequences."
Leahy noted the hypocrisy of his Republican colleagues, who refused to consider Merrick Garland, president Barack Obama's 2016 Supreme Court nominee, because it was an election year.
"All of this leads to one conclusion: Republicans are rushing with lightning speed to fill this vacancy because they have the power and votes to do so, precedent and principle be damned," Leahy said.
During his comments on Thursday, Sanders proposed several ways to counteract Trump’s “threat to democracy.” He encouraged states to allow the early counting or processing of mail-in ballots to provide less of a window “for chaos and conspiracy theories”; noted that the media must recognize that the concept of Election Night is no more, as results might not be known for days or even weeks; and demanded that social media companies “get their act together and stop people from using their tools to spread disinformation and to threaten and harass election officials.”
“Regardless of what Donald Trump wants,” Sanders concluded, “the American people will preserve democracy in our country.”