For months, President Donald Trump has planted the seed that he might not accept the result of the November presidential election should he lose to his Democratic rival, Joe Biden. Such a scenario would ensure months of civil unrest while posing a dilemma for the nation’s courts, Congress and the military.
As the campaign enters into the final stretch, Trump is struggling to regain his balance amid multiple revelations about his costly and self-serving lies about the coronavirus pandemic as well as his breathtaking disregard for America’s fallen soldiers and military leaders.
The controversies have created a furor that has kept the Republican president from effectively handling a tough reelection challenge. Instead, Trump seems to have been laying the groundwork for claiming victory no matter what the outcome of the Nov. 3 vote would be.
In an interview with Fox News in July, Trump was pressed to “give a direct answer” on whether he would accept the election results or not. “I have to see. Look, you — I have to see. No, I’m not going to just say ‘yes.’ I’m not going to say no and I didn’t last time either,” the president said.
Trump has also repeatedly cast aspersions on the integrity of the US electoral process.
Addressing hundreds of Republican delegates in North Carolina last month, the president said, “The only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election."
As Americans prepare to cast their votes, a nightmare scenario looms large: What if Trump loses but refuses to concede?
This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, some 80 million Americans are expected to vote by mail - double the number in 2016. The concern now, however, is that ballot deliveries could be delayed, raising questions about whether they will count.
Trump has warned of mail-in voting being riddled with fraud. He has attempted to deprive the Postal Service of the resources it needs to operate efficiently.
The president has also taken advantage of the situation by encouraging his supporters to vote twice, once by mail and once in person, even though that is illegal.
'An electoral Chernobyl'
Election observers have sounded the alarm that Election Day could prove a disaster.
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden has predicted that the US could be headed toward what he called “an electoral Chernobyl.”
A contested election would trigger a constitutional crisis at a time when America is having a new reckoning with racial injustice.
Congress can play a role in determining the victor, but that comes down to good faith and willingness to compromise.
Democrats have learned 2000 lesson
In 2000, the election result was disputed over chaotic vote counting in Florida. Republicans quickly mobilized a group of young white campaign staffers to protest the recount and create an atmosphere of intimidation and chaos.
Democrats relied on the courts and local election officials to validate Al Gore’s victory. However, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Republican George W. Bush by stopping a recount. Al Gore accepted the ruling and conceded the election.
Such a scenario is unlikely in the current hyper-partisan political climate.
Some progressive groups have already been meeting to game out a post-election apocalypse scenario to avoid what they see as the mistake of 2000. They are coordinating efforts to ensure substantial public protest after the election.
Democrats are not likely to cede the streets to Republicans again if Trump contests an apparent loss in November by claiming fraud.
Trump ready to send in troops
On the other side, Trump has been advised to mobilize the same mob of armed supporters who poured into Midwestern cities to protest the coronavirus lockdowns in the spring and confronted Black Lives Matter protesters over the summer.
Roger Stone, the president’s longtime confidant and former campaign strategist, has advised the president to deploy federal agents to physically block voting in order to prevent the Democrats from “stealing” the election.
Stone, whose 40-month prison sentence for lying to Congress was commuted by Trump, has also suggested that Trump should seize total power if he loses in November.
President Trump indicated that he was prepared to invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act, which would give him the authority to deploy troops to shut down any civil unrest.
The military leadership has strongly advised against such a move, raising doubt whether they would comply with such an order.
While it is still too early to predict the outcome of the Nov. 3 election with any degree of certainty, one thing is for sure: America will be gripped by months of mass public unrest if either Trump or Biden refuses to accept the result.
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