Rob Shapiro at Washington Monthly games out an interesting, if not oddly specific scenario for November: Biden wins, and Trump agrees to go quietly only under a full pardon, or he'll tell his followers to start up that Second Civil War.
Let’s start with what we know about the president’s core message. We know that his website offers no new proposals for his second term on taxes, healthcare, energy, agriculture, education, or even on how to beat the pandemic. When the pandemic, and his mismanagement of it, drove down jobs and growth, his message has shifted to the claims that widespread mail-in voting is part of a rigged election, and the only way he can lose is through mail-in ballot fraud. This new message has become as central to his 2020 campaign as anti-immigration was in 2016.
Trump’s attacks on the electoral process this year started with the suggestion that the election should be delayed, because widespread mail-in balloting based on the pandemic, as he put it, would be a “catastrophic disaster” leading to fraudulent results. Perhaps he thought he could delay the election until a time when he could point to the pandemic receding. Alas for that plan, Republican leaders from Mitch McConnell down rejected the trial balloon out-of-hand. Even so, the controversy generated wide publicity for his claim that a fair election would be impossible with largescale mail-in voting.
To be clear, that claim has no basis in fact. As the Brennan Center for Justice reported recently, extensive research shows that mail-in ballot fraud is very rare; and a National Academy of Sciences study found that universal mail-in voting has no discernible effect on each party’s share of the turnout or the election’s results. But for Trump’s strategy, the salient fact is that Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to vote by mail, by a margin of 72 percent to 22 percent, according to a recent Monmouth University survey.
The current centerpiece of Trump’s attacks on mail-in voting is his public push to block funding for the U.S. Postal Service and enact new policies that will delay deliveries of mail-in ballots to state election officials.
By normal political standards, this war on mail delivery is remarkable on several counts. First, 91 percent of Americans view the USPS favorably for its prompt reliable delivery of their mail. Second, his high-profile attacks have given Democrats a strong incentive to organize their voters to request and mail-in their ballots early. Finally, instead of declaring war, his newly installed postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, could have found discrete and hard-to-trace ways to weaken the USPS’s capacity to deliver tens of millions of mail-in ballots on time.
DeJoy may be taking such steps anyway. He announced this week that he would suspend the policy changes until after the election. Whether he really is or not, the headline-grabbing dispute has further publicized and reinforced the president’s core message that any election with high levels of mail-in balloting is rigged.
The third piece of this messaging addresses what Trump may do about a rigged election.: By his own statements, Trump may not accept the election result if he loses—and implicitly, neither should his supporters. He made the same threat in 2016, near the close of his third debate with Hillary Clinton. But if Trump had lost in 2016, whatever he said about it would have had little if any consequences. The threat has different implications this time, because now he is the president.
For example, if loses narrowly, he could direct his attorney general to sue to overturn the results in a few states, based on the Justice Department’s findings of mail-in ballot fraud. We do not know what would happen next. Americans typically see a narrow loss as a loss, however, and while Trump’s messaging has prepared his more fervent supporters to protest such an outcome, that type of public pressure usually does not affect judges.
We also cannot know what Trump will do if he loses badly. Based on game theory, he does have one course left that might take the sting out of his defeat: After spending months preparing his supporters for the prospect that Democrats will steal the presidency, Trump’s representatives could tell Biden’s camp that unless the president-elect agrees to some concessions, the sitting president will publicly reject the results as a fraud and call on his followers to take mass action in the streets.
In Trump’s view, this could be his ultimate deal. He agrees to accept the election results and retire peacefully, but only if Biden and Democratic congressional leaders agree to shelve future investigations and forgo federal prosecutions of him and his family and associates—and call on state prosecutors and attorneys general to do the same.
It's plausible, the problem with this is Biden already pledged not to pardon Trump back in May.The second problem is Trump will do this anyway if he loses. Remember, it's not if Trump will spend the rest of his life in a New York penitentiary, it's when his sentencing starts after his convictions on tax fraud and racketeering.
Trump will do absolutely anything to avoid prison. He knows he will die there. Keep that in mind as you go forward in 2020.