The U.S. may finally have reached peak banana republic status. Can it possibly get any worse? Probably.
President Trump repeatedly refused to say on Wednesday whether he would commit to a peaceful transition of power if he loses the election to Joe Biden, saying at a press briefing: “We’re going to have to see what happens.”
The big picture: Trump has baselessly claimed on a number of occasions that the only way he will lose the election is if it’s “rigged,” claiming — without evidence — that mail-in ballots will result in widespread fraud. Earlier on Wednesday, the president said he wants to quickly confirm a replacement for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg because he believes the Supreme Court may have to decide the result of the election.
REPORTER: “Win, lose, or draw in this election, will you commit here today for a peaceful transferral of power after the election? There has been rioting in Louisville, there has been rioting in many cities across the country. Your so-called red and blue states. Will you commit to make sure there’s a peaceful transferral of power after the election? ”
TRUMP: “We’re going to have to see what happens, you know that. I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are disaster.”
REPORTER: “I understand that, but people are rioting. Do you commit to make sure that there’s a peaceful transferral of power?”
TRUMP: “Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation. The ballots are out of control. You know it. And you know who knows it better than anybody else? The Democrats know it better than anybody else.”
Go deeper: Trump says he wants 9 justices in case Supreme Court must decide 2020 election
Fine. But what is the FEC going to do about it? Hasn’t Trump already neutered them?
Yesterday people were talking about a startling article in The Atlantic by Barton Gellman: The Election That Could Break America. If the vote is close, Donald Trump could easily throw the election into chaos and subvert the result. Who will stop him?
There is a cohort of close observers of our presidential elections, scholars and lawyers and political strategists, who find themselves in the uneasy position of intelligence analysts in the months before 9/11. As November 3 approaches, their screens are blinking red, alight with warnings that the political system does not know how to absorb. They see the obvious signs that we all see, but they also know subtle things that most of us do not. Something dangerous has hove into view, and the nation is lurching into its path.
The danger is not merely that the 2020 election will bring discord. Those who fear something worse take turbulence and controversy for granted. The coronavirus pandemic, a reckless incumbent, a deluge of mail-in ballots, a vandalized Postal Service, a resurgent effort to suppress votes, and a trainload of lawsuits are bearing down on the nation’s creaky electoral machinery.
Something has to give, and many things will, when the time comes for casting, canvassing, and certifying the ballots. Anything is possible, including a landslide that leaves no doubt on Election Night. But even if one side takes a commanding early lead, tabulation and litigation of the “overtime count”—millions of mail-in and provisional ballots—could keep the outcome unsettled for days or weeks.
This is what Trump is counting on–that there will be an extended period of confusion and chaos during which we won’t know for sure who has won the presidential election. We already saw something like this in 2000; but in that case, Al Gore conceded and allowed a peaceful transfer of power to George W. Bush. Trump is stating clearly that he will respond differently. Here is what Lindsey Graham told Fox News today:
Returning to the Atlantic article:
“We could well see a protracted postelection struggle in the courts and the streets if the results are close,” says Richard L. Hasen, a professor at the UC Irvine School of Law and the author of a recent book called Election Meltdown. “The kind of election meltdown we could see would be much worse than 2000’s Bush v. Gore case.”
A lot of people, including Joe Biden, the Democratic Party nominee, have misconceived the nature of the threat. They frame it as a concern, unthinkable for presidents past, that Trump might refuse to vacate the Oval Office if he loses. They generally conclude, as Biden has, that in that event the proper authorities “will escort him from the White House with great dispatch.”
The worst case, however, is not that Trump rejects the election outcome. The worst case is that he uses his power to prevent a decisive outcome against him. If Trump sheds all restraint, and if his Republican allies play the parts he assigns them, he could obstruct the emergence of a legally unambiguous victory for Biden in the Electoral College and then in Congress. He could prevent the formation of consensus about whether there is any outcome at all. He could seize on that uncertainty to hold on to power.
According to Gellman, the Trump campaign is already working to convince state legislators in battleground states to ignore the popular vote.
Trump’s state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for postelection maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states. Ambiguities in the Constitution and logic bombs in the Electoral Count Act make it possible to extend the dispute all the way to Inauguration Day, which would bring the nation to a precipice. The Twentieth Amendment is crystal clear that the president’s term in office “shall end” at noon on January 20, but two men could show up to be sworn in. One of them would arrive with all the tools and power of the presidency already in hand.
“We are not prepared for this at all,” Julian Zelizer, a Princeton professor of history and public affairs, told me. “We talk about it, some worry about it, and we imagine what it would be. But few people have actual answers to what happens if the machinery of democracy is used to prevent a legitimate resolution to the election.”
Please go read the whole thing if you haven’t already. People on Twitter yesterday were calling Gellman’s piece ridiculous scaremongering, but then yesterday evening Trump came right out and said it on national TV.
NewsPressNow.com: A list of the times Trump has said he won’t accept the election results or leave office if he loses. Read the whole list at the link, here’s what he said earlier yesterday:
September 23 Oval Office: “But in terms of time, we go to January 20th. But I think it’s better if you go before the election because I think this — this scam that the Democrats are pulling — it’s a scam — this scam will be before the United States Supreme Court. And I think having a 4-4 situation is not a good situation, if you get that.”
He has made it clear that he expects the Supreme Court to decide the election in his favor, regardless of the how Americans vote.
This from Slate is by Richard Hasan, who is quoted in the Atlantic article:
The Trump strategy of fighting the expansion of mail-in balloting appears to be twofold. To begin with, the campaign appears to have made the calculation that lower turnout will help the president win reelection. This may explain why Pennsylvania Republicans are planning on going to the U.S. Supreme Court to argue against a state Supreme Court ruling allowing the counting of ballots arriving soon after Election Day without a legible postmark. They argue that doing so unconstitutionally extends Election Day beyond Nov. 3 and takes power away from the Pennsylvania Legislature to choose presidential electors.
The first argument is not a particularly strong one: A decision to accept ballots soon after Election Day without a legible postmark does not extend Election Day as much as it implements how election officials determine if a mailed ballot was timely mailed. It recognizes the reality that many ballots have been arriving without postmarks and uses proximity to the election as a proxy for timely voting. Virginia and Nevada recently adopted similar rules, in light of pandemic-related mail delays. The Trump-allied Honest Elections Project is fighting a consent decree over a similar extension in Minnesota.
The argument about the state Supreme Court’s ruling usurping legislative power to set federal election rules echoes a parallel claim that was made during the disputed election in 2000. The question is whether a state supreme court usurps legislative power when it interprets election rules in line with both state statutes and the state constitution. The argument that a state supreme court applying a state constitution in a voting case usurps legislative power is weak to me, but it was convincing enough for the more conservative members of the Supreme Court that decided Bush v. Gore.
The idea is to throw so much muck into the process and cast so much doubt on who is the actual winner in one of those swing states because of supposed massive voter fraud and uncertainty about the rules for absentee ballots that some other actor besides the voter will decide the winner of the election….Indeed, on Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence suggested that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement needs to be seated, possibly without so much as a hearing, in order to decide “election issues [that] may come before the Supreme Court in the days following the election,” including questions involving “universal unsolicited mail” and states “extending the deadline” for ballot receipt.
Read more at Slate.
Joe Biden is clearly growing tired of his daily task of having to think up responses to President Donald Trump’s increasingly erratic comments. Asked about Trump’s latest threat, when he blatantly refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election fair and square, Biden rolled his eyes and sighed. Muffled behind his face mask, he said: “What country are we in?” Biden then briefly lowered his mask to say more clearly to the gathered reporters: “I’m being facetious—what country are we in? Look, he says the most irrational things. I don’t know to say.” During a White House briefing Thursday, Trump was asked if he has any intention of peacefully handing over power if he loses. The president ominously responded: “We’re going to have to see what happens.”
Let’s hope the Democrats and Biden figure out a more substantive response.
Of course we also will have to deal with Trump’s cultish supporters. Stephen Collinson at CNN: Trump’s comments send a signal to his supporters about how to react if Biden prevails.
The President’s comments risked not only dealing another blow to an election in which he has been trailing and has incessantly tarnished, but could send a signal to his supporters about how to react if the Democratic nominee prevails in 41 days. That possibility is especially dangerous given this past summer’s racial and social unrest — which burst forth again on Wednesday evening after police said two officers were shot in Louisville, Kentucky, amid protests about the failure to charge officers in the death of Breonna Taylor, an unarmed Black woman.
Trump’s near simultaneous warning on Wednesday that he thinks the election will end up being decided by the Supreme Court also raises the risk of a constitutional imbroglio likely to be worse than the disputed 2000 election.
His rhetoric escalated as he yet again politicized the effort to quell the pandemic by threatening to override regulators on the question of whether a newly developed vaccine would be safe in a highly irregular move. Taken together, his anti-democratic instincts and prioritization of his own political goals amid a national emergency show he plans to allow nothing — not the health of Americans, the sanctity of US elections or the reputation of the Supreme Court — to prevent him from winning a second term.
And his comments poured gasoline on an already inflamed nominating battle to fill the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg while threatening to drag the court further into politics in a way that could shred its legitimacy among millions of Americans.
Trump’s latest attempts to create uproar came amid new efforts to subvert the traditional mechanisms of government for his own gain — in what has become an almost daily ritual.
Obviously, there is much more news out there, including the situation in Louisville over the murder of Breonna Taylor. Please feel free to discuss any issue of importance to you in the comment thread. Take care, and I hope you’ll check in sometime today.