One of the worst slurs in Donald Trump’s vocabulary is “loser.” So it’s no wonder that in his own mind, Trump can never lose.
Come Election Night, that could present a constitutional crisis. The nation could face the possibility that Trump declares victory on Election Night, only to lose once all the ballots are counted.
That’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. States are preparing for a tidal wave of mail-in ballots this November, as voters concerned about the pandemic decide not to go to the polls in person. That flexibility is great for the voters, but it will delay a final tally as key states, like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, only begin counting the ballots on Election Day.
However, thanks to Trump’s copious lies about mail-in voting, Republicans are disproportionately leery of taking advantage of it. That means they are more likely to vote in person and have their votes counted quickly, as opposed to the laborious process of tallying mail-in ballots.
The nightmare is that on Election Night, Trump may look like he’s ahead, as Republican votes get counted faster. At that point, Trump is likely to say he’s the winner and then attack the yet-to-be-counted mail-in votes as fraudulent. It’s not hard to picture Trump’s enablers in the media seizing on that lie and convincing their followers that it’s the truth.
The result: a full-blown crisis of democracy.
Trump supporters dismiss such concerns as the product of hysteria, when in fact they are the product of Trump’s own words. In a July interview, Trump refused to say he would accept the election results, saying, “I’ll have to see.” He still harps on Hillary Clinton’s 3 million vote margin in the popular vote, complaining that it was all fake.
Several groups are already planning for that scenario and working to thwart it. Among them is Stand Up America, founded by Sean Eldridge, the former out Congressional candidate and former political director of Freedom to Marry.
Stand Up America, which is already promoting a massive get-out-the-mail-in-vote effort, has joined forces with the grassroots group Indivisible Project to form Protect the Results. The group promises to mobilize massive peaceful protests to demonstrate against any Trump effort to steal the election.
Another bipartisan group, Transition Integrity Project, is made up of Democrats and disenchanted Republicans who are preparing for the worst.
Last month, they released the result of a war-gaming exercise in which they looked at four possible election outcomes. The analysis was alarming and included the prospect of Trump deploying the National Guard or federal troops as well as the full force of a politicized Department of Justice. (Attorney General Bill Barr has already signaled he’s ready to support that strategy.)
In short, Trump will stop at nothing to hold onto power.
Of course, if the election is a blowout for Biden, that nightmare may never occur. But don’t count on it. Trump isn’t about to let go of power gracefully, and his rabid supporters will back him up. Remember, this is the man who joked that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his followers wouldn’t care. If he has to shoot democracy itself to stay in power, Trump is more than capable of doing so.