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States' Rights Are So Last Month

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

On Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump did what he does worst -- he took to Twitter to type two tweets that threatened to withhold federal funds from Michigan and Nevada because he doesn't like what state officials are doing to facilitate mail-in voting.


Where to begin?

For one thing, it's odd to watch a president claim that states can't manage their elections after he just spent the past two months telling America that only governors have the authority to mandate social distancing policies during a pandemic that has taken the lives of more than 94,000 Americans.

On the coronavirus response, Trump was right about the proper role of states versus Washington. It was refreshing to see a president not engage in executive overreach, but instead, let each state find its own way through the coronavirus storm.

But when it comes to Trump and states' rights, we conservatives can't have nice things for long.

No coincidence: Trump's regard for states' autonomy died at the border of two states that could be pivotal in the 2020 election.

Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Michigan in 2016 by a nose of 0.3 percentage points. Clinton beat Trump by 2 percentage points in Nevada, but the Nevada GOP is banking on a robust hi-tech get-out-the-vote effort to flip Nevada red.

The law is not on Trump's side. As election lawyer and Las Vegas native Allison Hayward told me, "States run elections and, yes, federal elections get consolidated with state and local elections, but states run elections subject to any laws Congress would pass."

Fun fact: There is no federal law against mail-in voting.

That's a good thing. If Washington decided to mandate how America votes, I don't think it would improve the experience.


"It's kind of dumb to pick this particular horse to ride," Hayward said, particularly as the president "selectively" picked two states and ignored other states that rely on voting by mail.

Republican Mike Garcia, for example, won a California House seat held by a Democrat the week before in a mail-intensive election. Not a peep.

As usual, Trump was sloppy in the fact department.

In his first Michigan tweet, Trump wrote: "Breaking: Michigan sends absentee ballots to 7.7 million people ahead of Primaries and the General Election. This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue Secretary of State. I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path."

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, pointed out that she sent absentee ballot applications to Michigan voters.

Trump deleted that tweet and put up another that correctly noted Michigan was sending out applications to voters. But really, who's the rogue one here?

Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, the lone Republican to win statewide office in 2018, declared the 2020 primary a mail-in election for a reason and it wasn't to greenlight voter fraud. Voting by mail reduces the risk of election workers and voters spreading COVID-19.

The Nevada GOP has been cataloging red flags they've seen with photos of ballots in trash bins, hanging out of mailboxes and more. It looks like an invitation to abuse. But these are issues for Nevada to tackle, not Washington.


And not Trump, who protests only where he sees an Electoral College advantage in it.

Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was put in the position of describing the tweets as Trump's way of alerting the Office of Management and Budget and Treasury Department to be "very careful" before sending money to states. What does that even mean?

Then McEnany referred reporters to the Trump reelection campaign. So it's not a policy issue; it's a campaign gimmick.

We all know the drill. Trump tweets out empty threats. His base rallies because, legal niceties aside, he has the right on his side. And then: Nothing happens.

And it's not just because the courts oppose his agenda and Democrats want him to fail. It's because he didn't do his homework. He mouthed off on the fly with no thought about where his administration actually might have something to contribute. With no policy, there can be no change. But then Trump doesn't really care about making the system work better. He'll keep the talking point.

Contact Debra J. Saunders at or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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