Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business — the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic’s Barton Gellman — outline Boss Trump’s plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He’s pointedly refused to commit to “a peaceful transfer of power.” “Well, we’re going to have to see what happens,” is how he answered the question. He added that after we “get rid of the ballots” — presumably mail-in ballots he’s been whining about for weeks — “there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation.”
Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven’t noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting and bitching, he’d be mute. And even then, he’d still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner “may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED” because mail-in ballots make it a “RIGGED ELECTION in waiting.”
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: “Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
“Trump’s invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before.”
No, we haven’t. However, it’s important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has repaired existing barriers and built a few miles of new ones — leaving him roughly 2,000 miles short.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Nonexistent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. “They’re being built in Ohio, they’re being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they’re being built all over and expanded at a level that we’ve never seen before.”
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants — one German, another Swedish — have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama’s second term far exceeded Trump’s. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election. First, it’s clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He’s been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he’s got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again — winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by 9 points. That’s a landslide. Trump’s down 10 in Wisconsin, 8 in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he’s in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans 2-to-1.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, “Trump’s state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states.”
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he’ll have a narrow “swing state” lead on election night, he’ll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. “The red mirage,” some Democrats call it.
“As a result,” Toobin writes, “the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish” with Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the streets.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half-dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain’t evidence.
The Atlantic also reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner — theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that’s the best they’ve got, they’ve got nothing.
Anyway, here’s the antidote: Vote early, and in person.
Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President.” You can email Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org.