Why Trump Might Refuse To Concede If He Loses In 2020

With his false cries of voter fraud, Trump has been preparing to claim the 2020 election is invalid. His desperation is fueled by his legal liability.
President Donald Trump delivers a statement in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump delivers a statement in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

While politicians and pundits are concerned about whether President Donald Trump will be reelected next year, a growing chorus of commentators point to his continuous tweets about voter fraud on a monumental scale, citing increasingly sketchy, conspiratorial, and partisan sources and trying to raise alarms about an even more disturbing possibility. The GOP and Trump almost chanted about “peaceful transition of power” when he took office, but if he’s voted out in 2020, he might not be willing to give up power so peacefully, using his manufactured narrative of millions of supposedly fraudulent votes to declare that the election results are null and void and he’s still president.

First and foremost, we have to point out that election fraud is extremely rare in the United States, and when it happens, it’s very quickly caught and prosecuted. There is absolutely no proof that it happened on a wide scale in 2016, and the commission Trump organized to find evidence of it came up empty. In fact, while he claimed that millions of undocumented migrants illegally voted in California, the only voting non-citizen from Mexico caught casting a ballot in the state actually voted for Trump. Meanwhile, in the four other confirmed cases of actual voter fraud from 2016, three of the perpetrators were Trump supporters.

One of them is a woman from Iowa who voted twice, citing Trump’s pre-election threats that votes for him wouldn’t be counted while undocumented aliens would be bussed around to vote more than once as the inspiration for her lawbreaking. Another woman filled in an absentee ballot for her dead husband, saying “I know what he wanted” as Trump and his surrogates said that Democrats bureaucratically resurrect the deceased to vote for them. But like Thanos with a defective reality stone, Trump believes that simply talking to the media and tweeting about a liberal conspiracy to commit widespread voter fraud he hasn’t been able to prove for almost three years, will somehow make one materialize.

Of course, that prompts the question of why Trump — who groused numerous times about the job failing to live up to his expectations, pining for his old life in the gilded IKEA showroom of his eponymous tower, and who by some accounts did not want to be president — wouldn’t want to be able to lose, leave, then blame the American people for failing to let him make the nation as great as he always thought it should be? He could once again be a TV carnival barker with no responsibilities or anyone even pretending to hold him to account, selling his bigly memoirs with all the best ghostwritten words. So, why not just let things play out? Well, the answer to that can be found in former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony to Congress.

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Welcome To Banana Republic Law And Order

President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr - February 14, 2019 (Department of Justice)

President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr – February 14, 2019 (Department of Justice)

According to a Nixon-era memo from the Department of Justice, and a subsequent memo in 2000, a sitting president can’t be indicted for crimes while in office. Last year, we talked about the fact that these infamous OLC memos aren’t airtight and why using them as legal precedent would be extremely dangerous based on my experience of living in a country where political office provided ironclad protection from the law. And it appears that Mueller may have played right into the problem in question by treating the memo as ironclad policy and refusing to indict Trump for wrongdoing, while at the same time testifying that once The Donald leaves office, he’s fair game.

This means Trump has to stay president to remain out of reach of the law, and now has every incentive to manipulate, distort, and even outright rig the electoral process in his favor. He’s even openly asking foreign intelligence services to bring him dirt on his opponents while his servile Igor of an Attorney General, William Barr, pretends this is somehow fine, despite the law very clearly stating that it’s not. It’s the exact worst-case scenario we discussed coming to life in slow motion, undermining the idea that we’re a nation of laws. Leaders protected from legal consequences by the virtue of the office they occupy is textbook banana republic nonsense, and it’s being tolerated, if not outright encouraged, by sycophants who don’t want to lose an election after angering millions of Trumps in their districts and states.

Over a year and a half period, I received plenty of feedback from constitutional law professors arguing that the only remedy for a criminal president is impeachment, otherwise you’d have all sorts of paradoxical legal conundrums. Unfortunately, this view is very much like the advice of a grizzled engineer in an old joke, technically correct but utterly useless in the real world. While we get lost in the minutia of potential statutory messiness, we’re missing the fact that refusing to simply do the obvious thing and indict, regardless of whether the president is still in office or not, we just elevated that office above the reach of the law and are relying on fickle political winds to hold a criminal president to account.

Because impeachment is an explicitly political process by definition, there’s no guarantee that lawmakers would exercise their duty and impeach an out of control commander-in-chief if it’s not in their immediate interest, and even good faith efforts to hold a president responsible can be shrugged off as partisan theater. Plus, given the GOP’s cultish devotion to Trump and the Senate being a de facto MAGA firewall against the findings of the Special Counsel and multiple spinoff investigations, as well as anything passed by the House, we can’t trust our current Congress to actually coral runaway executive power.

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How The Death Of Democracy Could Become The New Normal

Even if Trump were to try and sabotage the electoral process or refuse to abide by the will of the people, there’s a very real danger that Republicans would simply bow down to his next demand — just as they have time and time again over the last three years — and sing the praises of the new Imperium of America under the rule of our glorious leader Emperor Trump. Come to think of it, with their spines auctioned off to lobbyists and for campaign donations from the GOP base constantly howling with rage at the latest Fox News manufactroversy, the bowing will probably just come naturally. Not only that, their abdication of responsibility before their country and its citizens will be rewarded by their voters.

Sadly, reality for Trump and his supporters is whatever they want it to be thanks to the powers of cognitive dissonance, so there are plenty of voters very happy to believe that electoral victory is almost always assured if not for “leftist illegal alien fraud.” They desperately want to believe that they represent the Real America™ in all its mom, baseball, and apple pie glory despite the fact that whiter, older, more rural and exurban Americans without post-secondary education are an endangered species, demographically speaking. Younger generations of voters are more diverse and urban, working in careers that require more global and flexible mindsets, and by the sheer power of entropy, they will one day take over American politics.

And that, thanks to decades of apocalyptic conspiracy theories from the John Birch Society and divide-and-conquer politics that pit citizens against each other and their government instead of looking towards some sort of common goal, is why Trump’s base is so afraid of abandoning the Electoral College and gerrymandering allowing as little as a third of the country to speak for the other two thirds in critical matters and policies. On a deep, personal level, they know that their days are numbered and they’re leaving an unsustainable mess for their kids and grandkids. Yet, if they can rationalize losses at the ballot box or elections their politicians won on a technicality and by playing dirty as proof of fraud by their opponents, they can pretend that change isn’t happening as fast as they feared, and that they’re still the majority reflecting the will of the country instead of an angry, paranoid minority desperately trying to recapture their glory.

As an almost perfect distillation of his fans, Trump suffers from the same narcissistic delusions of grandeur and fears, and we could imagine that he could have griped about losing a reelection bid, stepped down, and go on to tell the country how stupid it was for not choosing him again to racious applause of his followers. Now, with potential indictments looming over his head once he leaves office, staying in power is a life and death question in his mind as he keeps “joking” about becoming president for life. It’s highly unlikely that he’ll ever see the inside of a jail cell, but he will have his dirty laundry aired on the world stage while being ridiculed by the countless enemies he made with his unhinged antics, which would be nothing less than torture for him.

In an ideal world, memos written ostensibly to empower a president to escape prosecution for obstruction of justice and corruption would have little sway on the decisions of those whose job it is to enforce law and order. But since we don’t live in an ideal world, its undue weight is being used to incentivize besmirching the integrity of our elections, our democracy, and the rule of law. Mueller is a Department of Justice veteran who apparently wanted to believe that lawmakers will do the right thing. He shouldn’t have. How we investigate and prosecute crimes art the highest levels of government is still an open question, and we’re still refusing to deal with it, paving the way for a wanna-be authoritarian to escape his legal problems at taxpayer expense.

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Opinion // 2020 / Donald Trump / Elections / Robert Mueller / William Barr