I've seen a lot of people ask questions along the line of "What if Trump isn't kidding about this dynasty/third term thing" and the general idea of Trump refusing to leave office if defeated. I remember people bringing it up during the Bush years as a possibility, but not even Dubya or the Nameless One were willing to ever go that far.
Donald Trump on the other hand, well, he keeps floating these trial balloons to his cult followers, and they don't seem to be worried at all. If anything, they all seem to think that the only way Trump could ever lose is "massive voter fraud" anyway, in which case, they'd still believe he's the legitimate leader of the country. Slate's legal correspondent Dahlia Lithwick follows up on this theory with Georgetown Law professor Josh Geltzer, and the scenarios are pretty gruesome.
In February, Georgetown Law professor Josh Geltzer began to ponder aloud what would happen if President Donald Trump refused to leave office were he to be defeated in 2020. It sounded far-fetched, but Geltzer isn’t a conspiracy theorist. Actually, he served as senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council and, prior to that, as deputy legal adviser to the NSC and counsel to the assistant attorney general for national security. When he wrote his essay suggesting that perhaps it was time to start preparing for if Trump, who has repeatedly shown a willingness to overstep his constitutional authority, simply refused to leave the Oval Office, he was met with silence. When Michael Cohen warned in his March testimony before Congress, “given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 there will never be a peaceful transition of power,” he too was met with awkward silence. But the anxieties gradually began to grow. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi fretted about this possibility in a May interview in the New York Times. When Politico probed the question this summer, it noted: “Constitutional experts and top Republican lawmakers dismiss the fears as nonsense, noting there are too many forces working against a sitting president simply clinging to power—including history, law and political pressure.” But commentators now seem less confident in those forces.
On Thursday, Edward Luce at the Financial Times noted how often Trump jokes about having a third term, observing that, because of Trump’s belief that he could face prosecution after he leaves office, “no other US president has faced the prospect of being re-elected or going to jail.” He added that for Trump, losing the 2020 election is an existential threat, and he has openly invited foreign interference, while Mitch McConnell refuses to even consider legislation to secure the vote. And even if Trump is truly joking when he tweets that he deserves to be credited two extra years in his existing term, years he believes were lost to the Mueller probe, or riffs on staying on the job long after he’d been term-limited out, the tweets send a dangerous message to his loyalists.
Lithwick and Geltzer have a pretty good conversation about where America is on this, and it's clear nobody's taking it seriously. It's easy to dismiss this all as theater to feed Trump's endless ego and the unquenchable bloodlust of his base, but there's more to that. I don't think Geltzer is a crank, either. There's legitimate questions about Trump openly, consistently, and repeatedly seeing what he can get away with.
There's no check or balance on his power right now, according to Trump. The mechanisms supposedly in place to stop Trump aren't being used.
It's far past time to think about the unthinkable.