Trump’s Talk of Rejecting Election Result Evokes Chaos Scenarios

September 25, 2020by Evan Halper, Eli Stokols and David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
U.S. President Donald Trump gestures after talking to journalists before departing the White House Sept. 24, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON — As President Donald Trump, backed by his army of attorneys, has laid groundwork to undermine an election result that does not cast him as victor, Republican lawmakers found themselves in the astonishing position Thursday of having to reassure Americans there would be a peaceful transition of power should he lose.

The Republican-controlled Senate went so far as to pass a resolution saying as much. Meanwhile, amid the furor over Trump’s latest, most brazen remarks, it became clearer just how the constitutional crisis could play out should the president be defeated and persuade his allies to join him in rejecting the vote tallies.

Such a crisis still seems unlikely; Trump’s success in such a scenario would hinge on his persuading Republican-controlled legislatures in swing states to embrace his unfounded claims of fraud. Yet voting experts worry should the election result be close.

The anxiety intensified Wednesday, as Trump declared he would not commit to a peaceful transition if some states continue to send all registered voters mail-in ballots, which is the law in several places.

According to a report in The Atlantic, the campaign has spoken with at least one Republican leader in Pennsylvania about the possibility of citing voting irregularities to reject a win by former Vice President Joe Biden there and have the state legislature direct the state’s electors to back Trump. It’s a strategy Trump could also pursue in other states.

“Unfortunately, the risk of this kind of thing happening has increased,” said Ned Foley, an election law scholar at Ohio State University who has researched how such a scenario could unfold.

The Trump campaign is not disputing the strategy is under consideration.

“If we think it’s being stolen, we’re going to fight like hell,” a senior campaign official said Thursday, while adding that Trump is not planning to try to hold on to power if he loses fairly. “I think that’s what the president was saying. But I think November could be a really bad month for this country.”

The president’s pronouncements are worrying even some in the Pentagon, after he said earlier this year that he planned to deploy a massive show of force by law enforcement on Election Day, in what he described as national poll-watching effort.

No law allows the president to authorize such force for domestic use, but Trump’s recent deployment of the National Guard to clear protesters outside the White House has raised concerns about how he would respond to postelection protests. If Biden is certified the winner and Trump refuses to leave office, military commanders would confront a heretofore unimaginable situation, taking orders from a disputed commander in chief even as his foes look to them to help remove him.

A contested election that spills into a fight in state legislatures would trigger constitutional chaos, Foley said. At several points between Election Day and the inauguration, things can break down if any states opt to disregard their results and Congress can’t agree on how to count the states’ electors.

The worst-case scenario is that a deadlock drags into mid-January and that the House and Senate are in dispute about who should occupy the White House as the president’s term expires Jan. 20 under the Constitution.

Foley previously had mapped out that eventuality with the mindset of a scientist contemplating a giant asteroid crashing into Earth: a remote possibility, but one to prepare for nonetheless. But the election-meltdown scenario has grown considerably less remote, he said, as the rapid shift to voting by mail — and more by Democrats than Republicans — has created outcomes where a Republican appears to have won on Election Day but ultimately loses when all the mail-in votes are tallied in the days that follow.

There were several such outcomes in 2018, confusing voters accustomed to having a winner declared the night of the election and creating an opening for unfounded charges of impropriety.

“Trump has broken so many norms and made such incendiary statements, including about not agreeing to a peaceful transition of power, that my alarm bells are going off,” said Richard Hasen, author of “Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust, and the Threat to American Democracy.” “It doesn’t mean this will happen. But it does mean we are right to worry about it happening.”

In anticipation, Democratic lawyers working with the Biden campaign are examining the election laws in the battleground states as well as the Constitution’s rules for counting the electoral votes.

They worry Trump will hold an election night lead in a crucial state, declare victory before the bulk of the mail ballots are counted, and send his lawyers to court to try to stop a complete count. It is a move Trump has signaled could come, by his repeatedly declaring mail ballots to be fraudulent.

Such legal action could create an opening for Republican state lawmakers in places such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin to declare they will cast their state’s electoral votes for Trump. Democratic governors in each could stand in the way, bringing to Congress a competing slate of electors for Biden, throwing the process into further dispute.

Nothing like this has happened in America since the 1876 contest between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden.

Most Republicans appear to have limited appetite to put the country through anything like that again, absent a razor-thin election result and compelling evidence that vote tallies were flawed. Several Republicans in Congress on Thursday made statements vowing a peaceful transition, though they avoided criticizing Trump for his statements.

Democrats used the controversy to energize their voters, urging them to turn out in numbers so large that there is no dispute about the victor after Election Day.

“A landslide victory for Biden will make it virtually impossible for Trump to deny the results and is our best means for defending democracy,” said independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. He said Trump is “sowing the seeds of chaos, confusion and conspiracy theories by casting doubt on the integrity of this election and, if he loses, justifying why he should remain in office.”

Some Republicans speculated that Trump isn’t moving to hang on to power at all costs but to save face should he lose.

“The idea a president wouldn’t leave office after losing is obviously alarming, but I don’t think many Republican officials think that’s a serious threat,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist.

“This is more about spinning a loss than trying to maintain power,” he said. “But comments like this will not help him win the election. It’s motivating to Democrats and a turnoff to suburban swing voters who just don’t like the chaos of Trump’s presidency. If this election is about Trump refusing to leave office if he loses, Republicans are going to get crushed.”

Trump’s campaign, which has already burned through $1 billion of the $1.3 billion it has raised, has spent heavily — roughly $30 million over the past two years — on its legal team. It includes in-house lawyers as well as attorneys at Jones Day in Washington, as well as from the Los Angeles-based firm of Charles Harder that specializes in media defamation suits.

Already, the campaign has challenged election plans in a number of states and fought aggressively to curtail voter turnout. It has fought to reduce eligibility to vote by mail, purge voters from the rolls, tighten voter ID requirements, reduce or ban the use of drop boxes and discard mail-in ballots that have technical flaws or arrive after Election Day.

———

Times staff writers David Cloud, Jennifer Haberkorn and Janet Hook contributed to this report.

———

©2020 Los Angeles Times

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

2020 Elections

Political Ads & Polling Round Up: October 27
2020 Elections
Political Ads & Polling Round Up: October 27
October 27, 2020
by TWN Staff

POLITICAL ADS Herrell Puts Special Interests First  EDF Action Votes and LCV Victory Fund launched a television ad campaign claiming politician Yvette Herrell puts special interests before New Mexico’s interests. EDF Action Votes and LCV Victory Fund ads will start running on broadcast and cable in... Read More

Biden Seen As Big Winner in Election 2020 Forecast
2020 Elections
Biden Seen As Big Winner in Election 2020 Forecast
October 27, 2020
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON - Former Vice President Joe Biden has about an 86% chance of winning next week's presidential election and could come away with 344-350 electoral college votes, according to Sabato's Crystal Ball, a publication of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. The forecast was developed... Read More

Ads Distort Gordon's Military Service
2020 Elections
Ads Distort Gordon's Military Service
October 27, 2020
by Dan McCue

This is an installment of an ongoing series of political advertising fact checks during the 2020 campaign. If you would like to submit an advertisement for consideration, please email a link to [email protected] A pair of advertisements, one funded by a super PAC dedicated to securing... Read More

Madeleine Albright, Richard Haass Outline 2020 Election’s Foreign Policy Implications
Foreign Affairs
Madeleine Albright, Richard Haass Outline 2020 Election’s Foreign Policy Implications
October 27, 2020
by Kate Michael

WASHINGTON — Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and diplomat Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, spoke at a virtual discussion convened by the think tank in the week before the U.S. presidential election about the election’s foreign policy implications and suggested... Read More

Counties Outline Priorities While Awaiting Infrastructure Bill
County News
Counties Outline Priorities While Awaiting Infrastructure Bill
October 27, 2020
by Kate Michael

WASHINGTON — Americans rely on public infrastructure like buildings, roads, bridges, and power supply lines every day. Some of the groundworks needed to operate society are handled by the federal government, some maintained by states, and a large portion owned and operated by the nation’s 3,141... Read More

Senate Confirms Amy Coney Barrett As Newest Supreme Court Justice
Supreme Court
Senate Confirms Amy Coney Barrett As Newest Supreme Court Justice
October 27, 2020
by Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate confirmed Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court Monday evening, marking the first time in 151 years that a justice was confirmed without the support of a single member of the minority party. Shortly afterward, President Donald Trump held a swearing-in... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top