The US 2020 election is fast approaching, but for months, the President has been warning that he might not concede the election in November if he loses.
"We're going to have to see what happens," Mr Trump said last month. "You know that I've been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster. Get rid of the ballots and...we’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.”
Similarly, in a July interview, the president refused to commit to accepting the results. "I have to see. Look ... I have to see," he said on Fox News Sunday. "No, I'm not going to just say yes. I'm not going to say no, and I didn't last time either."
Trump refusing to accept election results is nothing new; he’s said it numerous times over the years, including in 2016 at the third presidential debate in Las Vegas against his then opponent Hillary Clinton. When asked if he would accept the results of the upcoming election, Trump said, “I will look at it at the time. I will keep you in suspense.” At the time, the New York Times called it “a remarkable statement that seemed to cast doubt on American democracy.”
While a presidential candidate musing about refusing the peaceful transition of power is a big deal, a president doing the very same thing four years later a much bigger deal.
In a new interview, New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof told Yahoo Finance that Trump’s reluctance to affirm a cornerstone of American Democracy is “absolutely” concerning, adding that Trump’s potential effort to keep hold of power “really does matter” if the election ends up close.
“I don't think that if it's a clear election result, there is any chance that President Trump is able to chain himself to the Resolute Desk and stay in the White House. But if it's a disputed election, boy that really does matter.”
It's possible that a winner in the presidential election won't be declared Tuesday night due to the volume of ballots cast by mail. Election officials have already seen a large influx of mail-in ballots over concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic and have warned that it may take additional days or weeks to tally them.
“It would be very, very proper and very nice if a winner were declared on Nov. 3, instead of counting ballots for two weeks, which is totally inappropriate and I don’t believe that that’s by our laws,” Trump said on Tuesday. “We’ll see what happens.”
Heather A. Conley, senior vice president for Europe, Eurasia, and the Arctic at the Center for Strategic and International studies wrote in Carnegie Europe says that while these are “deeply troubling times and they serve as a potent reminder of the inherent fragility of democracies and their institutions”, we should “take courage that voter turnout is already robust—for the United States—despite an uncontrolled coronavirus pandemic.
Dozens of activist groups who claim to represent millions of Americans from both political parties plan to hit the streets next week, if President Donald Trump appears to be interfering with vote counting or manipulating poll results after Election Day.
The "Protect the Results" coalition of over 130 groups from Planned Parenthood to Republicans for the Rule of Law, has about 400 events protecttheresults.com planned to date. Participants are prepping to demonstrate "as early as the afternoon on Wednesday, November 4," the day after Election Day, and await a SMS message.
“We can’t assume that Donald Trump will respect the peaceful transfer of power” said Sean Eldridge, the founder and president of Stand Up America, which started organizing the coalition in June.
If Trump tries to interfere in the counting of ballots, or pressures state or local officials to say ballots should no longer be counted “then we would mobilize,” he said.
But what happens if Trump really does refuse to accept the election results?
Media organizations have published pieces outlining the myriad ways in which the President and his allies might turn a narrow loss into a win. The possibilities include familiar tactics—contesting mail-in ballots and turning the process into Bush v. Gore on steroids. After a wild election night on November 7, 2000, when pundits first called the key state of Florida for Gore, then for Bush, followed by a concession by Gore that was soon rescinded, the results were simply too close to call. In the 36 days that followed, Americans learned that Gore had won the popular vote by 543,895 votes. But in the complex US system, it’s winning the Electoral College that counts. In the end, the Supreme Court decided, and Bush became the first president since Benjamin Harrison in 1888 to lose the popular vote, but win the general election.
Trump could also summon federal agents or his supporters to stop a recount or intimidate voters. According to some experts, this would constitute an autogolpe, or “self-coup”: when a President who obtained power through constitutional means holds onto it through illegitimate ones, beginning the slide into authoritarianism.
In a recent piece in The Atlantic titled “The Election That Could Break America,” Barton Gellman wrote, “Close students of election law and procedure are warning that conditions are ripe for a constitutional crisis that would leave the nation without an authoritative result.”
Added Gellman: “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.”
In an online interview about the book, Will He Go?: Trump and the Looming Electoral Meltdown in 2020, Lawrence Douglas, a professor at Amherst College discussed the nightmare scenario of Trump simply refusing to leave office. “I cannot imagine Trump conceding defeat—it’s not in his DNA to do so,” Douglas told his interviewer. “If he loses decisively—and by that, I mean not only in the Electoral College vote but also in the popular vote of the swing states—he will have no choice but to submit to defeat.”
“But,” Douglas added, “if his loss turns on the results of mail-in ballot submitted in swing states, then I believe Trump will aggressively work to dispute the result.”
However, constitutional scholar Joshua Geltzer recently told the show Deconstructed, that the country should be protected by the rule of law. “The Constitution is clear that on January 20, the term of a current president ends,” Geltzer said. “And it’s also clear that if there isn’t someone whose votes have been certified by Congress as the new president, then the line of succession kicks in.”
Both the House and Senate passed symbolic resolutions in September to affirm commitment to the peaceful transfer of power after Trump declined to do so at the time. While the Senate passed its version by unanimous consent, five Republicans voted against the House counterpart.