A new report on the Trump campaign’s final days in Bloomberg Businessweek is getting a lot of traction because it catches the Trump campaign openly boasting about suppressing voters.
How openly? Here’s the direct quote from a senior Trump campaign official: “We have three major voter suppression operations under way.”
However, when you look at what the campaign is actually doing as part of these operations, it’s not at all clear that they involve any actual voter suppression.
Basically, the strategy involves three different branches, as told by reporters Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg.
“They’re aimed at three groups Clinton needs to win overwhelmingly: idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans,” they write. “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.”
This isn’t actually voter suppression at all — rather, it’s simply negative campaigning intended to harm your opponents’ GOTV operations, and it’s a standard campaign tactic.
Real voter suppression is what the Democratic National Committee is describing in its lawsuit against the Republican National Committee, which it has accused of coordinating with the Trump campaign to run voter intimidation schemes.
It could also involve purging legitimate voters from the voter rolls, or sending fake “poll workers” to polling places to harass voters and question their eligibility.
Trying to discourage your opponents’ voters, however, doesn’t fall into that category. So why is the Trump team openly calling it “voter suppression?”
There are two possibilities: First, the campaign is trying to water down the definition of “voter suppression” to make it sound as though suppressing voters only involves finding ways to depress turnout. This way, if the campaign gets caught in actual voter suppression, most people will believe that they’re just being accused of negative campaigning.
The second explanation is that the Trump campaign is merely incompetent and doesn’t know what it’s talking about.