WASHINGTON — Embarking on his most visible role in the presidential campaign, Bernie Sanders will warn Thursday the nation is in a “unprecedented and dangerous moment” as President Donald Trump questions the legitimacy of mail-in ballots and suggests he might not accepts the election results.
With plans to frame the president’s behavior as “unique threats to our democracy,” the Vermont senator and former Democratic presidential candidate is set to deliver an afternoon address at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
The remarks will kick off a new campaign for the self-described Democratic socialist, Sanders told the New York Times, to urge the public to prepare for a “nightmare scenario” in which Trump claims victory over Democrat Joe Biden and refuses to step down even if he doesn’t win the Electoral College.
Sanders’ campaign office said the senator “will put forward an agenda to ensure voters can cast their ballots safely and without intimidation, and that the results of the election will be honored.”
His speech comes as some Democrats have warned of a “red mirage” on election night as in-person election results – expected to favor Trump and perhaps show him ahead in many states – are initially reported before a record number of absentee ballots, that could skew toward Biden, are counted.
While Trump has questioned the legitimacy of “universal mail-voting,” Democrats have requested overwhelmingly more mail-in ballots than Republican voters. Polling suggests Biden supporters are twice as likely to vote by mail than Trump supporters.
The president has accused Democrats of seeking to “rig” the election through mail-in ballots, which he’s slammed without evidence as being more fraudulent than voting in person. Trump has complained about the weeks it might take election officials to count all absentee ballots, and he’s not been clear whether he would accept election results.
“I have to see,” Trump said in July when asked by Fox News whether he would accept the results of the November election.
Sanders, who endorsed Biden in April, spoke on behalf of the former vice president at the Democratic National Convention, helped Biden piece together policy recommendations, and has held livestream speeches and roundtables for the campaign. But he has not made any public live appearances since the final Democratic primary debate March 15.
Sanders, who finished second in delegates in the Democratic primary, remains a rock star among the Democratic Party’s left flank particularly young liberals. But a key part of Trump’s campaign strategy has been to try to tie Biden to the “socialist” and liberal policies backed by Sanders and other progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York-D.
To win in November, Biden needs Sanders’ primary backers to turn out for him in November, but Biden has also sought to deflect the socialism tag.
“I beat the socialist,” Biden told a local television station in Wisconsin this week. “That’s how I got elected. That’s how I got the nomination. Do I look like a socialist? Look at my career and my whole career. I am not a socialist.”
Sanders told the Times that he has spoken to Rosa Brooks, a professor of law and policy at Georgetown University and co-founder of the Transition Integrity Project. The group this summer assembled nearly 70 Trump critics, including law professors, retired military officers, former senior U.S. officials, political strategists and attorneys, to conduct “war games” on what the outcome of the election could like.
The group found a high degree of likelihood the winner will not be known on election night as officials count mail-ballots, giving “opportunities for an unscrupulous candidate to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the process and to set up an unprecedented assault on the outcome.”
Trump campaign spokeswoman Samantha Zager, in a statement, called Sanders a “disgruntled former presidential candidate” and accused him of “spouting conspiracy theories about hypothetical results.”
“If Bernie Sanders wants us to be able to have faith in the results on November 3rd, maybe he should ask the Democrat Party to quit sowing chaos and confusion that could lead to voter disenfranchisement and delayed vote tallies – that’s a tangible step he could take instead of spouting nonsense that is laying the groundwork for Joe Biden to dismiss the outcome when he loses.”
Among areas Sanders told the Times he will highlight is urging states to change state laws to allow the process to begin counting mail ballots to begin weeks before Election Day.
Battleground states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin do not allow the counting of absentee ballots to begin until polls close on Election Day, meaning it could take days or weeks to know their final results. Legislation in Michigan and Pennsylvania would allow that process to begin earlier, but it has stalled in its state legislatures.
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.