Trump Campaign Admits Its Strategy Depends on Suppressing Democratic Turnout, But Is It Illegal?

This must-read Bloomberg Business piece explains that with Trump behind, the campaign’s strategy depends upon lowering Democratic turnout:

To compensate for this, Trump’s campaign has devised another strategy, which, not surprisingly, is negative. Instead of expanding the electorate, Bannon and his team are trying to shrink it. “We have three major voter suppression operations under way,” says a senior official. They’re aimed at three groups Clinton needs to win overwhelmingly: idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans. Trump’s invocation at the debate of Clinton’s WikiLeaks e-mails and support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership was designed to turn off Sanders supporters. The parade of women who say they were sexually assaulted by Bill Clinton and harassed or threatened by Hillary is meant to undermine her appeal to young women. And her 1996 suggestion that some African American males are “super predators” is the basis of a below-the-radar effort to discourage infrequent black voters from showing up at the polls—particularly in Florida.

On Oct. 24, Trump’s team began placing spots on select African American radio stations. In San Antonio, a young staffer showed off a South Park-style animation he’d created of Clinton delivering the “super predator” line (using audio from her original 1996 sound bite), as cartoon text popped up around her: “Hillary Thinks African Americans are Super Predators.” The animation will be delivered to certain African American voters through Facebook “dark posts”—nonpublic posts whose viewership the campaign controls so that, as Parscale puts it, “only the people we want to see it, see it.” The aim is to depress Clinton’s vote total. “We know because we’ve modeled this,” says the official. “It will dramatically affect her ability to turn these people out.”

The Trump team’s effort to discourage young women by rolling out Clinton accusers and drive down black turnout in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood with targeted messages about the Clinton Foundation’s controversial operations in Haiti is an odd gambit. Campaigns spend millions on data science to understand their own potential supporters—to whom they’re likely already credible messengers—but here Trump is speaking to his opponent’s. Furthermore, there’s no scientific basis for thinking this ploy will convince these voters to stay home. It could just as easily end up motivating them.

Greg Sargent is skeptical that this method will work; indeed there are signs it can have the opposite effect of firing up Democrats. I think Greg is likely right.

But I’m interested in the legality of all of this.

Standing by itself, what the campaign describes may be odious, but it is not illegal. There is no law against negative campaigning, or discouraging people from voting through legal means (not by, say, giving misinformation about where to vote). But the Trump campaign also has promoted “poll watching” and other operations which many see as a sign of voter intimidation. Trump has engaged in so much of this activity, that the DNC is trying to use it to extend the consent decree against the RNC for voter intimidation activity extended for up to 8 more years. These brazen statements from the Trump campaign marginally increase the chances of success of that effort, because they confirm that the campaign has an interest in making it harder for likely Democratic voters, including minority voters, to come out to the polls and vote.

It’s not a good look for the Trump campaign, and the allied RNC campaign.

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