Would Donald Trump accept defeat?

Barack Obama was first inaugurated as I was getting towards the end of my Masters program and as I began the public speaking class I was teaching that day, I hadn’t had a chance to check. So I asked my class, had Obama in fact been inaugurated?

He had, of course, but at that time George W. Bush had outraged folks in my corner of the political spectrum to such a degree that some had indeed expressed doubt that he would indeed hand over power. The lurking suspicion was that Bush would declare martial law.

With Donald Trump, such fears are taken rather more seriously and as I dredged my archive, I found references dating back to when he was about to be impeached.[1] Trump, it was noted, had nursed a grievance over the Mueller investigation[2] and

retweeted a proposal offered by Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, that he be granted another two years in office as recompense for time lost to the Russia investigation. Half of his first term, Trump wrote in a Twitter dispatch of his own, had been “stolen.”[3]

These fears have reawakened this year[4] as Trump has utterly botched the COVID-19 pandemic,[5] warned of a “rigged election,”[6] and now declined to say clearly, even on Fox News Sunday to host Chris Wallace, that he would accept the election results.[7]

I don’t know what to say. I keenly remember wondering if Bush would hand over power to Obama. And so I hesitate to express doubt that Trump would hand over power to Joe Biden, should the latter in fact win the election.

But in my view, each president since Richard Nixon has successively been worse than his predecessor. And yes, that includes Jimmy Carter who began to implement neoliberal deregulation[8] after Gerald Ford declined to bail out New York City from its near-bankruptcy and instead blamed the city for its “liberal” policies.[9] Several presidents later, Trump, the delusional raging narcissist-in-chief, has been a black hole; there seems to be no bottom with him.

I think 1) Timothy E. Wirth and Tom Rogers[10] and 2) Max Boot[11] present plausible scenarios for how Trump might disrupt the electoral college voting. I think Matt Ford misses the mark, as I have previously noted,

Matt Ford dismisses fears[12] that Donald Trump might refuse to leave office if he loses the election.[13] Ford relies on state governors and secretaries of state certifying election results[14] where others understand state legislatures as appointing or failing to appoint electoral college delegates.[15] I see a difference here but honestly don’t know how realistic it is or how much it amounts to.[16]

Basically, it appears to me there are a few steps here:

  1. As Ford notes, state governments certify election results.[17]
  2. State legislatures appoint electoral college delegates, which is the step in the process that Trump and his team would attack.[18]
  3. The electoral college would likely, or at least arguably, still have to hold a ballot on schedule. The question is whether it does so with a full complement of delegates from each state or if some state delegations are missing, due to failures in the previous step.[19]

So when Ford dismisses fears about this process,[20] he in fact misses the point that the other authors are making.[21]

I don’t know who is right here. And with a record of successively worse presidents, I’m wondering how Biden will manage to be an even worse president than Trump, but I guess I’m back to worrying and wondering about whether Trump would accept defeat.

  1. [1]Mehdi Hasan, “Yes, Let’s Defeat or Impeach Donald Trump. But What If He Refuses to Leave the White House?” Intercept, March 6, 2019, https://theintercept.com/2019/03/06/donald-trump-impeachment-2020/; Will Bunch, “Trump’s diabolical plan to blow up democracy, get reelected and avoid jail just might work,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 5, 2019, https://www.philly.com/opinion/commentary/trump-wants-impeachment-2020-reelection-strategy-blame-democrats-ignore-subpoenas-20190505.html
  2. [2]Isaac Stanley-Becker, “Claiming two years of his presidency were ‘stolen,’ Trump suggests he’s owed overtime,” Washington Post, May 6, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/05/06/claiming-two-years-his-presidency-were-stolen-trump-suggests-hes-owed-overtime/
  3. [3]Isaac Stanley-Becker, “Claiming two years of his presidency were ‘stolen,’ Trump suggests he’s owed overtime,” Washington Post, May 6, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/05/06/claiming-two-years-his-presidency-were-stolen-trump-suggests-hes-owed-overtime/
  4. [4]Max Boot, “What if Trump loses but insists he won?” Washington Post, July 6, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/07/06/what-if-trump-loses-insists-he-won/; Matt Ford, “Fear of a Forever-Trump Administration,” New Republic, July 9, 2020, https://newrepublic.com/article/158415/trump-refuses-to-step-down; Felicia Sonmez, “Trump declines to say whether he will accept November election results,” Washington Post, July 19, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-declines-to-say-whether-he-will-accept-november-election-results/2020/07/19/40009804-c9c7-11ea-91f1-28aca4d833a0_story.html; Timothy E. Wirth and Tom Rogers, “How Trump Could Lose the Election—And Still Remain President,” Newsweek, July 3, 2020, https://www.newsweek.com/how-trump-could-lose-election-still-remain-president-opinion-1513975
  5. [5]Associated Press, “FDA warns against using the drugs that Trump touts for coronavirus,” Los Angeles Times, April 24, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/science/story/2020-04-24/fda-warns-against-using-trump-touted-drugs-to-treat-coronavirus; David Benfell, “The dangerous and delusional raging narcissist-in-chief,” Not Housebroken, April 25, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/04/25/the-dangerous-and-delusional-raging-narcissist-in-chief/; Aaron Blake, “The timeline of Trump’s coronavirus response is increasingly damning,” Washington Post, April 7, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/04/07/timeline-trumps-coronavirus-response-is-increasingly-damning/; Allyson Chiu, Katie Shepherd, and Brittany Shammas, “Trump comments prompt doctors, and Lysol, to warn against injecting disinfectants,” Washington Post, April 24, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/04/24/disinfectant-injection-coronavirus-trump/; Helen Davidson, “WHO says it has no evidence to support ‘speculative’ Covid-19 lab theory,” Guardian, May 4, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/05/who-says-it-has-no-evidence-to-support-speculative-covid-19-lab-theory-pushed-by-us; Ed Kilgore, “Could Trump Go the Way of Herbert Hoover?” New York, May 4, 2020, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/05/could-herbert-hoovers-fate-be-trumps.html; Joe Lowndes, “The Morbid Ideology Behind the Drive to Reopen America,” New Republic, April 30, 2020, https://newrepublic.com/article/157505/morbid-ideology-behind-drive-reopen-america; Ben Mathis-Lilley, “Multiple White House Staffers Diagnosed With COVID-19 as Trump, Pence Hold Photo-Ops With the Elderly,” Slate, May 8, 2020, https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/05/multiple-white-house-staffers-covid-19-trump-pence-meet-elderly.html; Laura Meckler, “With pressure and threats, Trump pushes to fully reopen schools. Schools say: Not so fast,” Washington Post, July 8, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/trump-schools-cdc-pence/2020/07/08/8a52d400-c14b-11ea-b4f6-cb39cd8940fb_story.html; Dana Milbank, “For Trump, a reckoning has come,” Washington Post, February 28, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/02/28/trump-reckoning-has-come/; Molly Roberts, “Anthony Fauci built a truce. Trump is destroying it,” Washington Post, July 16, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/07/16/anthony-fauci-built-truce-trump-is-destroying-it/; David Roth, “The Enduring Delusion of a Chastened Trump,” New Republic, April 3, 2020, https://newrepublic.com/article/157154/enduring-delusion-chastened-trump; Aaron Rupar, “Trump and Fox News want to send their hydroxychloroquine hype down the memory hole,” Vox, April 22, 2020, https://www.vox.com/2020/4/22/21230982/hydroxychloroquine-coronavirus-trump-fox-news-hype; Anna Sanders and Chris Sommerfeldt, “A spike in New Yorkers ingesting household cleaners following Trump’s controversial coronavirus comments,” New York Daily News, April 24, 2020, https://www.nydailynews.com/coronavirus/ny-coronavirus-new-yorkers-household-cleaners-trump-20200425-rnaqio5dyfeaxmthxx2vktqa5m-story.html; Adam Serwer, “The Coronavirus Was an Emergency Until Trump Found Out Who Was Dying,” Atlantic, May 9, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/05/americas-racial-contract-showing/611389/; Michael D. Shear and Maggie Haberman, “Health Dept. Official Says Doubts on Hydroxychloroquine Led to His Ouster,” New York Times, April 22, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/22/us/politics/rick-bright-trump-hydroxychloroquine.html; Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Eileen Sullivan, “As Trump Pushes to Reopen, Government Sees Virus Toll Nearly Doubling,” New York Times, May 4, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/04/us/politics/trump-coronavirus-death-toll.html; David Von Drehle, “If Trump doesn’t like the coronavirus news now, he’ll hate what comes next,” Washington Post, March 10, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/if-trump-doesnt-like-the-coronavirus-news-now-hell-hate-what-comes-next/2020/03/10/e478c314-62ea-11ea-acca-80c22bbee96f_story.html; Paul Waldman, “How coronavirus has deeply flummoxed conservative media,” Washington Post, February 28, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/02/28/how-coronavirus-has-deeply-flummuxed-conservative-media/; Paul Waldman, “The real reason Trump is obsessed with hydroxychloroquine,” Washington Post, April 7, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/04/07/real-reason-trump-is-obsessed-with-hydroxychloroquine/; David Wallace-Wells, “There Is Still No Plan,” New York, May 7, 2020, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/05/white-house-plan-for-ending-coronavirus-stay-at-home-orders.html; Joanna Walters, “Donald Trump goes without mask at Michigan Ford plant despite company request,” Guardian, May 22, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/may/21/trump-ford-factory-mask-michigan
  6. [6]Max Boot, “What if Trump loses but insists he won?” Washington Post, July 6, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/07/06/what-if-trump-loses-insists-he-won/; Matt Ford, “Fear of a Forever-Trump Administration,” New Republic, July 9, 2020, https://newrepublic.com/article/158415/trump-refuses-to-step-down; Felicia Sonmez, “Trump declines to say whether he will accept November election results,” Washington Post, July 19, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-declines-to-say-whether-he-will-accept-november-election-results/2020/07/19/40009804-c9c7-11ea-91f1-28aca4d833a0_story.html; Timothy E. Wirth and Tom Rogers, “How Trump Could Lose the Election—And Still Remain President,” Newsweek, July 3, 2020, https://www.newsweek.com/how-trump-could-lose-election-still-remain-president-opinion-1513975
  7. [7]Felicia Sonmez, “Trump declines to say whether he will accept November election results,” Washington Post, July 19, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-declines-to-say-whether-he-will-accept-november-election-results/2020/07/19/40009804-c9c7-11ea-91f1-28aca4d833a0_story.html
  8. [8]Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, Winner-Take-All Politics (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010).
  9. [9]Rick Perlstein, The Invisible Bridge (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014).
  10. [10]Timothy E. Wirth and Tom Rogers, “How Trump Could Lose the Election—And Still Remain President,” Newsweek, July 3, 2020, https://www.newsweek.com/how-trump-could-lose-election-still-remain-president-opinion-1513975
  11. [11]Max Boot, “What if Trump loses but insists he won?” Washington Post, July 6, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/07/06/what-if-trump-loses-insists-he-won/
  12. [12]Matt Ford, “Fear of a Forever-Trump Administration,” New Republic, July 9, 2020, https://newrepublic.com/article/158415/trump-refuses-to-step-down
  13. [13]Max Boot, “What if Trump loses but insists he won?” Washington Post, July 6, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/07/06/what-if-trump-loses-insists-he-won/; Timothy E. Wirth and Tom Rogers, “How Trump Could Lose the Election—And Still Remain President,” Newsweek, July 3, 2020, https://www.newsweek.com/how-trump-could-lose-election-still-remain-president-opinion-1513975
  14. [14]Matt Ford, “Fear of a Forever-Trump Administration,” New Republic, July 9, 2020, https://newrepublic.com/article/158415/trump-refuses-to-step-down
  15. [15]Max Boot, “What if Trump loses but insists he won?” Washington Post, July 6, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/07/06/what-if-trump-loses-insists-he-won/; Timothy E. Wirth and Tom Rogers, “How Trump Could Lose the Election—And Still Remain President,” Newsweek, July 3, 2020, https://www.newsweek.com/how-trump-could-lose-election-still-remain-president-opinion-1513975
  16. [16]David Benfell, “We are apparently not yet at a New York City in March level of crisis,” Irregular Bullshit, July 10, 2020, https://disunitedstates.com/2020/07/09/we-are-apparently-not-yet-at-a-new-york-city-in-march-level-of-crisis/
  17. [17]Matt Ford, “Fear of a Forever-Trump Administration,” New Republic, July 9, 2020, https://newrepublic.com/article/158415/trump-refuses-to-step-down
  18. [18]Max Boot, “What if Trump loses but insists he won?” Washington Post, July 6, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/07/06/what-if-trump-loses-insists-he-won/; Timothy E. Wirth and Tom Rogers, “How Trump Could Lose the Election—And Still Remain President,” Newsweek, July 3, 2020, https://www.newsweek.com/how-trump-could-lose-election-still-remain-president-opinion-1513975
  19. [19]Max Boot, “What if Trump loses but insists he won?” Washington Post, July 6, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/07/06/what-if-trump-loses-insists-he-won/; Timothy E. Wirth and Tom Rogers, “How Trump Could Lose the Election—And Still Remain President,” Newsweek, July 3, 2020, https://www.newsweek.com/how-trump-could-lose-election-still-remain-president-opinion-1513975
  20. [20]Matt Ford, “Fear of a Forever-Trump Administration,” New Republic, July 9, 2020, https://newrepublic.com/article/158415/trump-refuses-to-step-down
  21. [21]Max Boot, “What if Trump loses but insists he won?” Washington Post, July 6, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/07/06/what-if-trump-loses-insists-he-won/; Timothy E. Wirth and Tom Rogers, “How Trump Could Lose the Election—And Still Remain President,” Newsweek, July 3, 2020, https://www.newsweek.com/how-trump-could-lose-election-still-remain-president-opinion-1513975

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