Trump adds to election anxiety by pushing legal boundaries

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President Donald Trump waves as he walks from Marine One to the White House in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, as he returns from Bedminster, N.J. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

(AP) – President Donald Trump has floated the unconstitutional idea of delaying the Nov. 3 election. His administration violated a judge's order on the 2020 census and could be held in contempt. Another court ruled that he illegally sidestepped Congress to find billions for his border wall.

In ways large and small, in multiple corners of the government, the president has demonstrated a willingness to push the boundaries of federal law, if not outright flout them. And in the heat of a presidential campaign, that track record only adds to anxiety about whether Trump will abide by the results of the election.

“When the president talks about being the law-and-order candidate, it’s clear that when he says the word ‘law’ he means the laws he personally cares about enforcing,” said Liz Hempowicz, public policy director at the private Project On Government Oversight. “That’s not how a law-and-order system works. You can’t pick and choose. It’s just a complete breakdown of our democratic systems happening in front of our eyes.”

Trump has already suggested the election will be rigged, and he has pointedly declined to promise a peaceful transfer of power if he loses. He jokes about staying in office beyond two terms, prompting supporters in Atlanta last week to chant “12 more years!”

But it's no joke to critics who see a callous attitude toward the laws he claims to uphold. They point to a series of instances in which Trump or officials in his administration have violated the spirit of the law, ignored it or made end runs around statutes to implement his policies.

“We are used to presidents bowing to a court determination, bowing to a finding by an inspector general ... but if the president refuses to do that, what is the mechanism to hold him and his administration accountable?” asked Trevor Potter, president of the private Campaign Legal Center.

Trump's defenders say such concerns are overblown.

David Rivkin Jr., a constitutional lawyer who served in the White House counsel’s office and the Justice Department in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, sees no cause for alarm when it comes to Trump abiding by the election results.