Written by Nick Licata
Trump began months ago executing a seven-step plan to win or at least upset the apple cart. Here is how it is playing out.
Donald Trump plays politics as a game to win. And he never, never admits defeat. He is always victorious. He whips his mask off on the White House balcony to show that he has conquered the coronavirus pandemic. His supporters love it. Trump is the ultimate showman.
Nevertheless, the Republican party realizes that Trump may lose his re-election. Consequently, the R’s are doing some really hard work. They are registering more new voters than the Democrats are in key swing states. They also have a massive door-belling campaign to get their supporters out.
Meanwhile, the Democrats are eschewing that practice so as to not spread the pandemic. Instead, they are relying on personal phone calls and social media. Studies have shown that the Republican’s in-person contact is about three times more effective than the efforts that the Democrats are pursuing.
For Trump, that is not enough. He continues to ignore democratic norms and pushes extreme positions. At a campaign rally 12 days before Election Day, Trump called for locking up his opponent, former V.P. Joe Biden, his son Hunter and tossing Hillary Clinton into the clink for good measure. His daughter-in-law Lara Trump excuses her father-in-law’s encouraging rally attendees to chant “lock her up” as just him “having fun.”
But more important than merely inciting his supporters, Trump has a clear plan to depress the Democratic vote, to seed doubt about the election’s validity, and to ultimately force a close election to be decided by the Supreme Court or other means. If all that fails to secure a win for Trump, then what happens? Trump posed that question out loud at a recent rally, “If I lose, what do I do?”
Well, he is not going to stage a military coup. But he will call the election a sham. And be prepared to have him declare that he is a presidential candidate for the 2024 election. It is his only way of retaining his media-star stature as the Defender of the People against the Deep State. And he’ll need that mantle to help him raise funds needed to fight off the upcoming civil and criminal cases he will be facing due to his prior business practices.
In the meantime, Trump began months ago executing a seven-step plan to win or at least upset the apple cart. The results could literally see the streets filled with angry Trump supporters believing, as Trump said, the election was rigged against him. Here is how it is playing out.
Trump’s seven-step election strategy
First Step – Stop Democrats from casting their votes
Democrats refer to this effort as voter suppression. Republicans see it as keeping our votes safe from fraud. Halting or reducing mail-in balloting is the major Republican strategy. That could affect the ability of more than a third of registered voters who said they will vote by mail this fall, according to the latest Economist/YouGov Poll. That poll also found that those voting by mail this year are more than twice as likely to be voting for Biden as for Trump.
Trump has claimed on Twitter that “mail-in ballots will lead to massive electoral fraud and a rigged 2020 election.” However, MIT found that this was not true by analyzing data collected by the very conservative Heritage Foundation. MIT’s conclusion is that over 20 years, there has been only an average of three cases per state. That works out to about 0.00006 percent of the total votes that were cast.
To address the perceived danger of voting fraud, Republican governors have set up hurdles that include the ballots lack a signature or a witness, or that the ballots did not arrive by an arbitrary time.
Second Step – Sow doubts about the validity of the election results
Trump openly questions our electoral process. He has insisted without evidence that the 2020 election will be rigged against him. At a campaign stop in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, he told his supporters, “The only way we’re going to lose this election is if this election is rigged.”
The Russian state media and its proxy websites are also bolstering that perception, according to a Department of Homeland Security intelligence bulletin. The Russian message is that the vote-by-mail processes and alleged lack of transparency are creating vast opportunities for voter fraud.
To further instill distrust in the election process he is promoting an image of Democrats wanting to destroy our democracy. He has turned to call Democrats fascists. He accused former V.P. Joe Biden of looking to “replace American freedom with left-wing fascism.”
His basic message emboldens far-right movements such as QAnon. Trump claims not to know about the group, which says that Washington harbors Satanists who are protected by a “deep state” that Trump is fighting against. Trump has not denounced the group, instead of calling its followers “people that love our country.”
Third Step – Create chaos in the election process
Creating chaos is not an articulated Trump strategy, but chaos will likely result from his actions. For instance, in front of a TV audience of millions, Trump made a debate-stage call-out for volunteers to stand to watch at voting polls.
The Republican Party has promised to recruit 50,000 volunteers in 15 contested states to monitor polling places. According to an Atlantic article, they will be ready to challenge voters they deem suspicious-looking. Trump campaign spokeswoman, Thea McDonald, guarantees that “all Democrat rule-breaking is called out. And if fouls are called, the Trump campaign will go to court to enforce the laws.”
A number of states are open carry states — meaning that individuals are allowed to carry an unconcealed weapon in public. Virginia is such a state. In the 2016 election, a Trump supporter stood outside a Loudoun County polling place with a handgun in his waistband, offering sample Republican ballots to voters. Election officials said the man broke no laws.
Trump campaign officials say that they will not intimidate voters and that their volunteers will be trained. But who will be training them? In most states, poll monitors must be registered with state authorities. With Trump seeding claims that the election is going to be rigged, suspicions are running high among his supporters. What happens if one of them walks off the street and demanding to be a poll watcher, without any prior registration or non-partisan training and is refused by a poll worker. Given Trump’s inciting distrust in the electoral system, it’s not likely going to be a friendly chat.
Finally, Trump has advised his supporters on Twitter to vote twice. He said, “Go to your polling place to see whether or not your mail-in vote has been tabulated (counted). If it has you will not be able to vote & the mail-in system worked properly. If it has not been counted, VOTE (which is a citizen’s right to do).” It is highly likely that official poll workers will not have that data available. Some states, such as Wisconsin and Florida, do not begin counting any ballots until polls close on Election Day. Some Trump voters will vote twice and if caught, their vote will be tossed. If that happens, expect Trump’s attorneys to file a lawsuit.
Fourth Step – Have the House choose the President
The House of Representatives chooses the next president if neither presidential candidate receives the 270 electoral votes needed to win, or if some legal dispute that is not clearly decided by the Supreme Court prevents determining a clear winner.
It has only happened three times in our country’s past, and all were before 1900. However, it could happen again. University of Virginia’s Center for Politics noted that if Trump won all the states currently rated as a toss-up, it would result in a tie.
If the election were thrown into the House, each state delegation would have a single vote, regardless of how many representatives a state may have. Republicans currently have a majority in 26 state delegations. Democrats are a minority with 22 delegations. However, the House delegates casting the votes for each state would be those elected into office this November, not those currently sitting in the House. 2020 House elections could be even more important than the Senate races!
It should be noted also that the 12th Amendment requires a quorum of two-thirds of the states being present in the House in order for the vote to be taken. If the Democrats’ 22 delegations didn’t attend, the House could not vote. In that case, the Senate decides who becomes vice president, with one vote per senator.
These scenarios are so steeped in procedural minutia, that it is apparent why Trump has so far dismissed going to a House vote. It would have to be a last-ditch effort. As long as Judge Amy Coney Barrett is voted onto the Supreme Court, there is no apparent need for him to promote a House vote as a viable plan.
Fifth Step – Reassign a state’s electoral delegates from Biden to Trump
The most precarious strategy for Trump to pursue would be to have Republican legislators or other elected officials in several swing states appoint Trump-friendly electors to the Electoral College. Barton Gellman’s article in the Atlantic explores this option in detail. He notes that states are not constitutionally required to appoint electors based on the popular vote. Trump’s campaign could convince state legislators that the popular vote was fraudulent, justifying the legislature itself appointing its own slate of electors.
The Atlantic notes that there are ways to keep Republican legislators from appointing delegates to Trump if he did not win a state’s popular vote. Democratic governors or secretaries of state may nullify the legislators’ actions by certifying the popular vote. Alternatively, a slate of Democratic electors could band together and challenge the plan by certifying their own legitimacy.
In the six swing states that have Republican-majority legislatures, both Florida and Arizona have Republican governors. To add a level of complexity, the Arizona secretary of state, who oversees the state’s elections, is a Democrat. Those internal state divisions could result in two different slates of electoral delegates being submitted to Congress for final approval. That could put pressure on the Supreme Court to determine which list would be accepted.
This situation brings us to the final step in Trump’s plan to secure the election: give the deciding power to the Supreme Court. Which will have six conservative justices, three of whom he has appointed.
Sixth Step – Clutter the courts with filings to force a Supreme Court decision
All of the above steps open the door for the election results in battleground states to be challenged in the courts. As of a month ago, Trump and the Republican National Committee already have legal teams involved in more than 40 lawsuits. The number is growing rapidly. The Democrats are playing catch-up, litigating 30-plus lawsuits in at least 17 states.
Politico reports that “Republicans are preparing prewritten legal pleadings that can be hurried to the courthouse the day after the election, as wrangling begins over close results and a crush of mail-in ballots.” It is clear that the authenticity of mail-in ballots and the deadlines for mail-in ballots to be received and counted will be at the heart of most Republican challenges.
Conflicting interpretations of applying the Constitution to the election procedures in various states could extend the dispute all the way to Inauguration Day. That period of time could be shortened if the Supreme Court intervened. It is likely that with so many lawsuits there will be multiple court jurisdictions making conflicting decisions.
While the Supreme Court often refers to decisions back to the local courts to decide on an issue, that won’t happen in this instance. The justices will have to make a decision.
Or perhaps they could issue a decision that punts the actual final decision to the House of Representatives by claiming that the Constitution gives the authority to select a president to them. That might be how strict “constitutionalists,” such as judge Amy Coney Barrett and fellow justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, might decide. If the court made a decision after the elections for U.S. Representatives are certified, the winner would be apparent by which party controls the most state delegation.
One final note on how the Supreme Court might be influenced by Judge Barrett. She worked on the Bush v. Gore case in 2000, helping Bush’s legal team retrieve and complete thousands of absentee ballot request forms on which voter-registration information was missing. The Republicans back then were trying to keep voters from being disenfranchised. Would that prior court decision provide a precedent for Barrett to determine that ballots with minor procedural elements missing should be counted? The Trump attorneys are expected to oppose counting them.
Seventh Step – Election lost, and a candidate is reborn
If there is a landslide vote for Biden, Trump may be forced to recognize that he has no chance of overturning enough votes to secure the election. More importantly, the Republicans may come to that conclusion as well. Other scenarios might also lead to the same conclusion, such as a House vote or a Supreme Court decision.
Finally, if none of those events occur, he could contest the election right up until the inauguration. That might just be a bridge too far for a number of Republicans in congress to cross. They could decide it’s time to save the party rather than Trump.
However, Trump could turn his final act in this play into the start of another performance. If he were to announce that he would be a presidential candidate in 2024, he would certainly capture national headlines. He could follow in the steps of Grover Cleveland and be the second president in history to serve two non-consecutive terms. If he won in 2024, he would take office at the age of 78, which is how old Joe Biden will be if he wins and takes office next year.
Most importantly, it would allow Trump to use his greatest resource. No, it’s not his money. It’s his die-hard base of supporters. Pew Research Center estimated that one-in-five adult Twitter users in the U.S. follow Trump’s personal account. He could use them as leverage, not against the Democrats but in opposition to the Republican “establishment” if they stray from Trump’s policies. For those that do, he could threaten to support a primary challenger.
What would he want from the remaining Congressional Republicans? Help with media coverage and with funds to fight off the impending civil lawsuits and criminal charges that he has postponed since gaining high office. No longer being President exposes his business empire to these coming legal battles. Without the Justice Department protecting him he may find it leading the charge to force him, his institutions, and associates to release incriminating documents.
If he can retain his following, Trump can once again be a media star of his own reality show — former President becoming the future President. Stay tuned and watch how he does it!