President Biden’s Should Clarify His Remarks on Election Legitimacy and the 2022 Elections. But Even The Troubling Aspects of What He Said Are Nowhere Nearly as Bad as What Trump Repeatedly Has Said About Election Legitimacy

There’s been some discussion and attacks on President Biden for the following two exchanges as his press conference on Wednesday:

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Speaking of voting rights legislation, if this isn’t passed, do you still believe the upcoming election will be fairly conducted and its results will be legitimate?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, it all depends on whether or not we’re able to make the case to the American people that some of this is being set up to try to alter the outcome of the election.  And it’s one thing — look, maybe I’m just being too much of an optimist.  Remember how we thought not that many people were going to show up to vote in the middle of a pandemic?  We had the highest voter turnout in the history of the United States of America.

Well, I think if, in fact — no matter how hard they make it for minorities to vote, I think you’re going to see them willing to stand in line and — and defy the attempt to keep them from being able to vote.  I think you’re going to see the people who they’re trying to keep from being able to show up, showing up and making the sacrifice that needs to make in order to change the law back to what it should be. 

And — but it’s going to be difficult.  I make no bones about that.  It’s going to be difficult.  But we’re not there yet.  We’ve not run out of options yet.  And we’ll see how this moves


Q    Thank you, sir.  I just wanted to clarify: A moment ago, you were asked whether or not you believed that we would have free and fair elections in 2022 if some of these state legislatures reformed their voting protocols.  You said that it depends.  Do you — do you think that they would in any way be illegitimate?

THE PRESIDENT:  Oh, yeah, I think it easily could be — be illegitimate. 

Imagine — imagine if, in fact, Trump has succeeded in convincing Pence to not count the votes. 

Q    Well, I — 

THE PRESIDENT:  Imagine if —

Go on.

Q    In regard to 2022, sir — the midterm elections.

THE PRESIDENT:  Oh, 2022.  I mean, imagine if those attempts to say that the count was not legit.  “You have to recount it and we’re not going to count — we’re going to discard the following votes.”

I mean, sure, but — I’m not going to say it’s going to be legit.  It’s — the increase and the prospect of being illegitimate is in direct proportion to us not being able to get these — these reforms passed.

But I don’t think you’re going to see — you’re not going to see me and I don’t think you’re going to see the Democratic Party give up on — coming back and assuming that the attempt fails today.

What Biden said is hardly the model of clarity. As I read the remarks, and particularly how Biden responded to the second set of questions, it appears that he has in mind a concern about election subversion, not voter suppression, and how the failure to pass the Democrats’ combined voting bill would make it easier to engage in election subversion. (By subversion, I mean messing with the counting or certification of the votes, to declare the loser of the election the winner. The bill does have some anti-subversion provisions in it, like requiring the use of paper ballots for all races, though I’d like to see more.)

I don’t believe Biden was trying to argue that failure to pass the voter suppression aspects of the voting bill would mean there was so much suppression that the 2022 midterms would be illegitimate. (This is similar to remarks made by Stacey Abrams in connection with the 2018 Georgia governor’s race against Brian Kemp. Although Kemp and his administration did some terrible things, I think Abrams was wrong in refusing to call that election “legitimate.” I explain that point in detail in my 2020 book, Election Meltdown.)

To the extent that Biden is making the latter remark, that’s troubling and he should walk it back. Casting doubt on the legitimacy of the election is a highly charged statement to make, and such language should be reserved for a system that is so repressive that it would be considered a fundamentally unfair election. I don’t think that’s what we will see in the 2022 midterms, whether or not Democrats pass any new voting bills.

Opponents of Biden have already begun attacking him for the remarks, and saying he’s as bad as Trump in attacking the legitimacy of the election process. That’s laughable. No one comes close to Trump in attacking the legitimacy of American elections and the election process. I make that point very evident in my upcoming book, Cheap Speech. For example, Trump over 400 times on Twitter alone attacked the legitimacy of the 2020 vote count between election day and January 6, even though there is no reasonable basis to challenge its legitimacy.

Biden’s comments don’t come near to Trump. But Biden should clarify and walk them back to avoid the false equivalence arguments.

UPDATE: A reader points out that the President’s press secretary already tried to clean this up. But I think a statement from Biden himself is necessary here. The clean up indicates that the remarks were aimed at the risk of election subversion.

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