The media is missing the real battle — and Trump’s secret weapon

Joe Biden; Donald Trump Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images
Joe Biden; Donald Trump Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The real issue about this year’s general election is about to jump out and bite us hard where we don’t want to be bitten.

Members of the Biden administration and campaign staffers, particularly the younger ones, are concerned with all the talk about Trump’s alleged crimes, the election issues and the age of both candidates. They think we in the media are missing the point: Donald Trump won’t accept defeat — again. There will be an insurrection — again. “And this time I don’t know if the country will survive,” I was told. 

The rending of hair and gnashing of teeth has begun.

The television pundits, following last week’s Michigan primary, are dissecting Republican results to show how Nikki Haley is making inroads on Trump’s territory in certain counties and thus would perform better against Democrats. “Once again, a sizable portion of Republicans came out to vote against the unquestioned leader of the party,” CNN noted. Her victory in the D.C. primary is called an “indicator that the real GOP loathes Donald Trump.” The idea there is that the best informed and most literate Republicans live in D.C.

Meanwhile, on the Democrat side of the aisle, some of those same pundits are sounding warning sirens after a substantial number of voters chose “uncommitted” on their ballots in Michigan instead of current President Joe Biden because of the Israel-Hamas war.  Michigan has a large number of Arab American voters and as several publications noted, young voters, progressives and Arab Americans chose not to commit to the incumbent.

Trump supporters, despite the former president’s obvious mental decline, are still backing demented Donnie even as he embraces Russia and cheers racism with bad jokes about seeing Black people in well-lit rooms and attempting to align himself with inner-city youths by selling gold tennis shoes and having a rap sheet.

Marianne Williamson, remember her? She has decided to get back into the race after the silent protest in Michigan from some Democratic voters, while Biden decided Wednesday to go to Walter Reed Hospital for his annual physical to put to rest any concerns about his age and mental acuity.

Trump continues to make headlines and suck the oxygen out of the room with his ubiquitous court appearances while he ponies up sweaty wads of cash to appeal two civil penalties, one for fraud and the other for defamation.

House Speaker Mike Johnson arrived at the White House full of smarm last Tuesday, as the nation tried to avert a partial government shutdown. Johnson said the Democrats were to blame for, well, everything from climate change, which he also claimed doesn’t exist, to zealotry that, like climate change, actually does exist.

Never mind. Johnson showed up after meeting with Biden and other congressional leaders in the Oval Office, and afterward marched to the microphones set up outside the West Wing and told reporters that border security remains a top priority (though he scuttled a bipartisan bill that would address the problem) and that “We must take care of America’s needs first.”

Of course it’s all lies. Johnson is on a short leash and looks like a trained monkey with an organ grinder named Trump. Johnson trashed Democratic budget plans, though the Republican-controlled House has failed to pass a budget and the country is only operating under temporary spending measures that continue the last budget passed — when Nancy Pelosi was speaker of the House.

And if all of that bothers you, it should.

It should also bother you that Sen. Lindsey Graham, who once said that if the GOP embraced Trump it would crumble to the ground and Republicans would deserve it, bent a knee and puckered up to Trump on Tuesday after the Michigan primary.

Congratulations to President Trump for a decisive win in the Michigan primary. I’m hoping that sooner rather than later the Republican presidential primary will end so we can unite with President Trump as our nominee. He is the candidate who will defeat Joe Biden in the Fall and will get America back on track quickly. It is clear to me that the Republican Party faithful are behind President Trump in all corners of the country. It’s time to move on to the general election,” he posted on “X”.

Trump has called November’s election “judgment day” and declared himself a “proud political dissident” like Alexei Navalny during a speech in front of conservative activists last week. He’s cloaked his campaign in religious imagery and painted an apocalyptic vision of the future if Biden wins a second term.

It’s all or nothing for Trump – and believe me, that’s the operative phrase. He either wants it all, or wants there to be nothing for anyone else should he lose. 

Trump is adamant. “For hard-working Americans, Nov. 5 will be our new liberation day,” he said. “When we win, the curtain closes on their corrupt reign and the sun rises on a bright new future for America.”

In the background, almost silently, and with little fanfare, Vice President Kamala Harris held a meeting on voting rights in the White House last week. This is the real problem — a safe and fair election this November.

“This is very serious. I hope people understand just how serious the potential of this problem is,” a member of Harris’s staff explained on background. “What happens if Trump doesn’t accept defeat — again.”

During the portion of the meeting open to the press, the vice president spoke briefly about the potential for problems this November. She spoke of concerns of those who would try to destroy democracy by “loudly interfering” with the process and launching “attacks on poll workers.”

She spoke about protecting election workers and fighting voter suppression.

It nearly flew under the radar. You certainly haven’t heard many pundits talking about this issue. In fact, there are few stories written about it and few public notifications about it. Yet it looms large. 

The administration faces a problem, in great part because of Donald Trump’s tactics. Six weeks before the last election he infamously told us in the briefing room that if they simply stopped counting ballots there would be no change of power. He questioned ballots that hadn’t been cast yet and he’s continued lying about losing the 2020 election for the last four years.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

It’s a central theme to his re-election plans, and many I’ve spoken with inside the Department of Justice and the current administration say they are a bit hamstrung because calling attention to the problem could help gin up the opposition by Trump’s militants against the election results. “The only way Trump will accept the election is if he wins,” I was told.

No kidding. But, more importantly, it is the millions of his rabid fans, missing gray matter and in possession of copious amounts of firearms, who are a greater concern. But mention election security? Donald Trump is already screaming “Deep State.” Imagine if the administration starts talking incessantly about election security. Trump will accuse Biden of doing what Trump is actually trying to do: falsify election results like he did in 2020.

Make no mistake, Donald Trump loves that scenario. The threat of violence — without him ever speaking about it directly — is what he believes is his secret weapon to get him back in the White House.

There are those who claim Donald Trump wants to be “President for Life.” There are others who say that claim is ridiculous. The reality is Donald Trump doesn’t think that far ahead — he just wants to stay out of prison and he wants to use his fervent followers to make that possible.

The immediate concern, therefore, is guaranteeing this November the elections remain free and fair. There is already talk, and more importantly, evidence that Russia (i.e., Vladimir Putin) is trying to influence the election.

The greater threat is not the mentally compromised Donald Trump but those who are propping him up. They are younger, more vicious and far more cunning and politically adept. They are the architects who are using Donald Trump.

The Department of Justice and state and local governments need to be more aware of the mounting problem. One of the vice president’s oldest friends and advisers put it this way to me: “This is Donald Trump’s last chance. It is also the best chance in our lifetime that the enemies of democracy have at destroying democracy."

We have to be vigilant that it does not happen.

That, in a nutshell, is the true test we face this fall.