Trump down with coronavirus; his Pennsylvania acolytes prepare a coup
President Donald Trump walks off stage after speaking at a campaign rally at Harrisburg International Airport, Sept. 26, 2020, in Middletown, Pa. While Trump's coronavirus diagnosis has grabbed media attention, his allies in Pennsylvania are proceeding with efforts to steal the election for him in this key battleground state. | Evan Vucci / AP

The news that President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump have been infected with COVID-19 spread rapidly across the nation and around the world early this morning.

While commentators are saying the entire election is now upended, a key part of the unfolding election process—the attempt by Trump and his GOP to hijack the results if he loses—is going full steam ahead.

Undeterred by the president’s illness, which amounts to a confirmation of the failure of his administration to effectively battle the virus, Pennsylvania Republicans are moving quickly to enact a nightmare scenario they intend to launch should he lose the election.

The plan they are pushing would actually allow them to ditch the results if Biden wins the most votes in Pennsylvania in November. The importance of Pennsylvania cannot be overestimated in the coming election. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website shows convincingly that Pennsylvania is the likely tipping point. If Biden wins that state, he would not need to win other battleground swing states, including Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Arizona, Georgia, Texas, or numerous others in order to win the election.

Republicans in the Pennsylvania state legislature are putting in place so-called ‘election integrity’ measures that amount to preparations for a legal coup should Trump not win the most votes in this key swing state. | Matt Rourke / AP

During the debate this week, Trump talked about “bad things happening” in Pennsylvania. He was laying groundwork for the GOP assault on democracy that was scheduled to begin the day after the debate.

Republicans in the state House of Representatives passed a resolution of the body’s government committee on a 15-10 party-line vote to create a special “election integrity committee” of three Republicans and two Democrats to investigate the 2020 election. The “integrity committee” would be empowered to approve its own slate of electors for Trump based on false claims of voter fraud.

“This is an unprecedented attack on non-partisan election administrators at a time when we should all be doing everything we can to instill confidence in our elections,” Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said in a statement.

The “election integrity” measure came with no prior warning, according to Democratic State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, a member of the government committee.

Pennsylvania House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody also says the push to create this new election committee came “out of nowhere.”

“We heard the president say Tuesday night, ‘Bad things happen in Philadelphia,’” Kenyatta said, referencing Tuesday night’s presidential debate between Trump and Joe Biden. “The reality is, bad things are happening. This is a bad bill that never should have been brought up.”

Trump laid still more groundwork for this election nightmare during the debate when he said his “poll watchers” were thrown out of a voting place in Pennsylvania. This was a lie because no voting was taking place at any polling place in the state at the time. What happened was that a violent group of Proud Boys tried to force their way into a ballot sorting and distribution center. No partisan watchers for any candidate are allowed into these locations.

Other efforts to lay the groundwork for the coup in Pennsylvania that could tip the entire election in Trump’s favor include a flood of lawsuits by Trump lawyers to curtail ballot counting ahead of Election Day.

Many of the lawsuits allege “massive fraud” and refer to unsubstantiated claims of ballots ending up in rivers and garbage pails.

The Pennsylvania Republicans have worked out with the Trump campaign a plan where the “integrity committee” could find so much “fraud” that the entire count in Pennsylvania would have to be abandoned.

The Democratic governor, Wolf, would undoubtedly certify a Biden slate of electors if the Democrat wins. If there were contending slates of electors from the state, however, it could tie up the process all the way up to the Supreme Court.

The “integrity committee” is clearly a step in the direction of trying to seat a group of electors not chosen by the people, if Trump loses. It meets the classic definition of a coup.

“I’ve got to believe that they are serious about trying to seat another full set of electors, which is a coup,” Democratic leader Dermody said.

Republicans are claiming they had to initiate their “integrity” plan because the state Supreme Court threw the election into “chaos” when it extended the deadline for receipt of absentee ballots to three days after Election Day.

The new committee can subpoena documents, including ballots, before, during, and after the election. It can launch an investigation after the election, thereby delegitimizing the results by discovering “errors” and making moves to cast additional false accusations.

Trump’s positive coronavirus test further highlights his mismanagement of the pandemic and his mocking of public health measures, such as wearing masks and physical distancing. Here, he holds up a face mask during the first presidential debate in Cleveland as he made fun of Vice President Joe Biden for wearing masks. | Julio Cortez / AP

Attorney General William Barr has already joined in the scheme by claiming that nine military ballots were thrown in the garbage in Pennsylvania. An investigation by Pennsylvania election officials showed that a new worker accidentally discarded the ballots because they were not in the required ballot envelopes. The situation was not a case of intended voter fraud.

As the election sabotage continues, the only thing heard from GOP leaders today are well-wishes for the president and the first lady. There are reports that the president is displaying mild symptoms.

Melania Trump tweeted last night that she was feeling well, that “we are all in this together,” and that everyone should stay safe.

She did not mention that Trump, if he would only give the signal, could deliver, via the Heroes Bill, the urgent relief his country needs. He has in his hands the means to help keep everyone safe but has thus far shown no inclination to do so.

ELECTION 2020: Everything you need to know to vote in your state

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John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.