Trump and members of the White House staff, meanwhile, are violating with impunity the Hatch Act, which prohibits executive-branch employees from using their position to influence an election. The president uses his personal Twitter account both for official business and as an arm of his political campaign; nobody bats an eye. The Office of Special Counsel recommended that senior adviser Kellyanne Conway be booted from federal service because she’s violated the Hatch Act so many times. Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and one of his senior advisers, tweeted a campaign photo, and Sarah Sanders tweeted the campaign slogan (while she was still the White House press secretary). This White House believes—correctly, it seems—that it is entirely above the law.
These transgressions mark a dramatic departure from the norm. When I worked in the White House, there was a Halloween tradition of decorating the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where most staff worked, for their trick-or-treating children. In 2016, one of my speechwriting colleagues covered our office door with orange paper and glued on letters cut out of black and white construction paper that read, “Don’t Boo. Vote.”
It was a clever nod to President Obama’s oft-quoted line on the campaign trail urging people to make themselves heard at the ballot. However, the ethics lawyers in the White House counsel’s office demanded that the decoration be taken down, arguing (incredulously, in our view) that it violated the Hatch Act.
Perhaps the most troubling form of cheating is the most diffuse, and therefore the hardest to grasp. Trump’s reelection campaign, abetted by right-wing media and companies like Facebook that have absolved themselves of any democratic responsibility, is waging a disinformation war modeled on the efforts of dictators and unprecedented in its scale. As reported by this magazine, the campaign is prepared to spend $1 billion to harness digital media to the president’s advantage, including bot attacks, viral conspiracy theories, doctored videos, and microtargeted ads that distort reality.
Read: How pundits may be getting electability all wrong
The Trump campaign’s efforts are also bolstered by foreign actors. We know, and a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report confirmed, that Russian hackers meddled in the 2016 election, and cybersecurity experts say that we should expect more and worse attacks in 2020. They could be as subtle as social-media accounts that stoke partisan differences or as blunt as software attacks on voter databases.
While Special Counsel Robert Mueller did not bring charges of conspiracy with Russia against Trump, he explicitly did not exonerate him. Unbowed, Trump openly repeated the very offense that got him impeached in the first place, inviting—in front of cameras—foreign actors like China to look into the Bidens.