After months of casting doubt over the US presidential election going forward with mail-in ballots, US President Donald Trump said in September that he would not commit to a transfer of power post-US elections if he loses the presidential post to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
“We’re going to have to see what happens. You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster,” Trump had said.
The White House rushed to explain and clarify his statement soon after, with White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany saying that Trump will accept the results of a “free and fair” election.
The possibility that Trump could refuse to concede even till January is so plausible, given his own rhetoric and stance over the last few months, that this was one of the outcomes listed by a bipartisan group of elections experts, reports Boston Globe.
“The sitting president of the United States indicates his lack of interest and desire to transfer power should he lose the election,” said Michael Steele, a former Republican National Committee chairman, who was a part of this group.
“So as citizens we need to be concerned about that and what it means,” Steele added.
A Planned Agenda
On the campaign trail, Trump and his team have carefully laid groundwork for declaring the election illegitimate, with Trump himself having repeatedly claimed to his supporters that cheating is the only way the Democrats can win, Boston Globe reports.
Despite the White House’s assurance, what would happen if President Trump really decides to not accept the result if it is in favour of Biden?
The report by Boston Globe says that even if Trump does declare himself the winner of an election he has lost and even calls the election ‘rigged’, this will not have a legal impact on the results. He could refuse to concede or boycott the Inauguration Ceremony, all within his legal rights, and it still would not make a difference. A concession speech or an outgoing president’s presence at his successor’s inauguration are only part of tradition, which would be marred by Trump’s stance.
“Just charging that an election is fraudulent is not the way elections get overturned,” Benjamin Ginsberg, the national counsel for the George W Bush campaign during the Bush v Gore recount tussle told Boston Globe.
“To successfully do that, a candidate would actually have to prove on a precinct by precinct, ballot by ballot basis that there are enough fraudulent ballots to change the results of the election. Bombastic rhetoric will have no force in the election contest litigation that would have to be filed to throw out the results.”Benjamin Ginsberg
Lawrence Douglas, Professor of Law at Amherst College told ABC News that while Trump may not concede defeat, he may submit to defeat in the face of a massive Biden win.
Instead, what could be crucial is Trump’s most certain attempt to get ballots thrown out through legal means in the event of a closely contested battle in several states. Trump may just use the courts and Republican allies in state legislatures to contest the results.
This could spark a situation where the US House of Representatives and the Senate become involved in trying to declare a result. The matter could also reach the Supreme Court, and some federal politicians and state governments could join in along the way, says ABC News, predicting a “highly fluid situation” ie, uncertainty.
How Trump Can Use Power to Retain His Seat
The US could see a protracted post-election struggle in the courts and the streets if the results are close,” says Richard L. Hasen, a professor at the UC Irvine School of Law and the author of a recent book called Election Meltdown.
Keeping this in mind, one possibility is that a team of Republicans meet Trump and convince him to not follow through on this attempt. Another, that Biden becomes the new president, automatically takes control of the Secret Service, among other agencies, and has to remove Trump physically from the Oval Office, reports Boston Globe, quoting Steele.
But Barton Gellman, in a piece in The Atlantic writes that there could be a far worse possibility – that Trump could prevent an unfavourable outcome completely.
“The worst case is that he uses his power to prevent a decisive outcome against him. If Trump sheds all restraint, and if his Republican allies play the parts he assigns them, he could obstruct the emergence of a legally unambiguous victory for Biden in the Electoral College and then in Congress. He could prevent the formation of consensus about whether there is any outcome at all. He could seize on that uncertainty to hold on to power.”Barton Gellman, in The Atlantic
Legal scholar Lawrence Douglas, in a piece for The Guardian, has similar dire predictions to make. A possible scenario for him is that Biden wins, but Trump declares it rigged and the states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, which only start counting the votes on 3 November and not before, descend into chaos as Trump and the Republicans use the delay to declare the state in their favour. A battle ensues between the Republican-controlled legislatures of these states and the Democrat governors and in January, Congress is left holding contradictory electoral certificates, causing the election to hang in the balance. The result? A stalemate, with no clear winner.
Of course, this is just a prediction. There is no sure-shot answer of what is going to happen post-election, although almost all agree that Trump will not allow a peaceful transfer of power. All that is certain is that there is a high level of uncertainty beyond 3 November, and that a constitutional crisis and the consequent chaos are not unlikely either.