What Will Trump’s Base Do If He Loses?

Trump has convinced his base his election loss will be illegitimate. If he loses, his base, including the Proud Boys, won't respond quietly.
President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Central Wisconsin Airport in Mosinee, Wis., Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Central Wisconsin Airport in Mosinee, Wis., Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Throughout his presidency, there have been numerous instances of Donald Trump, his associates, and other Republicans undermining, or attempting to undermine, the democratic process. From Florida Governor Ron DeSantis refusing to allow ex-felons to vote, despite a ballot measure being passed on this issue, to then-Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp rigging his state’s gubernatorial election by wrongly removing 340,000 voters from the rolls, to the Trump administration’s attempts to delay mail-in ballots, the list is seemingly endless. However, Trump took it a step further this week in a way that is, arguably, even more concerning.

During a routine press conference in the White House Press Briefing Room, Playboy’s Senior White House Reporter Brian Karem asked Trump if he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power after the election if he loses. It shouldn’t have been a newsworthy moment. It wasn’t a difficult question. In every election since America was founded, there has been an orderly transition of power. However, standing at the podium in the White House, Trump refused to commit to it.

When the run-up to the election began last year, people warned that Trump would behave in increasingly outrageous ways as he becomes ever more desperate. We’re witnessing that in full display here. As Senator Elizabeth Warren says: “Refusing to peacefully transition power to a leader elected by the people. Urging states to “get rid of” ballots and silence voters. These are the tactics of a fascist. Trump has repeatedly shown an affinity towards authoritarian leaders, from Erdogan to Putin to bin Salman. Now, he is seeking to imitate them. He recognizes that the walls are closing in on him. He’s panicking about the polls that show Joe Biden with a lead nationally and in the crucial swing states, as well as in former Republican strongholds.

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In Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko remains in office only because he is protected by the police and security forces. Once it would have been utterly ridiculous to suggest that a US president might just be contemplating taking similar action. But how many Americans are now anxious about the possibility of their president using all means at his disposal to hold on to power, even if he loses the election? It wasn’t very long ago that the person holding office as the President of the United States of America was known as ‘the leader of the free world’, but that is not a phrase that anyone uses when referring to Donald Trump.

This is not a political issue. Accepting the result of the election is a democratic issue. We’ve seen Republicans panic at the latest remarks made by Trump. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has repeatedly blocked election security legislation and attempted to restrict access to the ballot box, made clear that a peaceful transition of power is fundamental. The Republican Governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, went even further, launching into a passionate condemnation of Trump by stating that: “It is appalling and outrageous that anyone would suggest for a minute that if they lose an election they’re not going to leave – period.”. When Republicans are contradicting, or outright condemning, Trump’s remarks, it’s clear that the President has overstepped a mark that even they cannot justify defending.

While it’s easy for Republicans to say that they will respect a peaceful transfer of power if Biden wins, it means nothing if they don’t oppose Trump’s continued efforts to interfere with mail-in ballots, suppress the vote, and allow foreign interference. Without combating those elements and attempting to protect the election process, they are really saying that if Biden overcomes all of the GOP’s anti-democratic efforts, they’ll support a peaceful transition.

All of this is a reflection of the sorry state of affairs that has emerged in American politics since Trump stepped forward as a political candidate. While America once ensured that countries across the globe had free and fair elections, the world is now looking at the United States and wondering if the roles need to be reversed for 3rd November 2020. It has been clear for some time that Trump will not disappear quietly, whether he loses office in November or is forced out by term limits in 2024. His administration is now just being open about it.

Of course, Donald Trump’s comments will not have any bearing on who is in the Oval Office in January. If Trump loses, he will not be able to barricade himself in the White House and, if he refused to leave, Congress wouldn’t allow him to stay. But that’s not the concern here and dismissing Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transferral of power, for this reason, misses the point entirely. The issue isn’t about whether or not Trump accepts the result, although that is important. The worrying issue is that Trump is preparing his base to reject any defeat, whatever the margin, as illegitimate.

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With his ‘phone in hand in November, the concern is that as the counting shows Trump’s time in politics is coming to an end, he will take to Twitter and use the bully pulpit of the White House to convince his devoted supporters, without evidence, that the election has been ‘rigged’. Just like he’s done since taking office, this is yet another attempt by Trump to sow division. The potential consequences of that are extremely concerning, as they could incite conflict and civil unrest within America. The concern is heightened by the threat of white supremacist terrorism and other right-wing extremist groups.

We all saw during his car crash performance at the first 2020 presidential debate how dangerous Donald Trump’s rhetoric can be. When asked to condemn white supremacy, the President of the United States, the Commander-in-Chief, not only refused to do so but he told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by”. Within moments, Trump’s comments on national TV were being celebrated by white supremacists and used as a new slogan for them on social media. With one phrase, Trump gave this group and others like them a green light to continue with their agenda, handing them a rallying cry that they are shouting from the rooftops.

What is now being witnessed is just another performance by a Trump campaign that is clutching at straws to try and find a way to win over voters or, at the very least, keep Biden supporters at home. The Biden campaign has warned about this. Senior adviser to the Biden campaign Robert Bauer suggested Trump believes “that he can use the presidential ‘bully pulpit’ to achieve vote suppression” by making voters give up and believe their vote is meaningless, as Trump will steal the election . If that’s the case, it’s not surprising that Trump’s team are being so open about refusing to accept the result and potentially getting the Supreme Court involved to side with him and keep him in office.

This is a very important issue. It would be naive to suggest otherwise. However, it is necessary to be cautious about the true motivations behind anything that is said or done by the Trump administration. Biden had it right when he stated that Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transferral of power is “a typical Trump distraction”, and that Trump is trying to ensure that people are “not talking about what’s happening to the people dying”.

Biden is, of course, correct. While we are talking about Trump’s attempts to undermine the election, we are not talking about how over 200,000 Americans have died from coronavirus, the US economy is in recession, millions of Americans have lost their jobs, the country’s healthcare system is under threat, the Republican Party is attempting to steal another seat on the Supreme Court, and so on. There is plenty to debate and discuss and, with people already voting across America, it’s important that we do not fall into the Trump team’s trap of focusing solely on one issue that, at the end of the day, will not change who is in the White House after 12 noon on inauguration day next year.

This spectacle shows why it’s important for individuals to turn up and vote in force in November. The Republican Party is going to try every trick in the book to attempt to maintain their grip on power. A slim victory isn’t going to be enough. The Republican Party needs to be overwhelmingly defeated in the House, Senate, and White House races. While ultimately likely to be toothless, Trump’s rhetoric is the behaviour of a wannabe dictator who is desperate to cling to power even if he has to tear apart the democratic process to do so. Authoritarianism is alive and well in the Republican Party. The electorate needs to send a resounding message that it is not welcome in America. Voters across the US need to turn up and ensure that Donald Trump’s dangerous desperation doesn’t damage their democracy.

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Opinion // 2020 / Donald Trump / Elections / Republican Party / White Supremacy