After reading and commenting upon the all-too-plausible nightmare scenario for the 2020 election that Barton Gellman described in The Atlantic, I tried to convince myself that surely responsible members of Donald Trump’s party would speak out against his apparent plans to rig the election. So far it does not seem to be happening.
While plenty of Republican elected officials (and even Never Trump conservative opinion leaders) have been quick to dismiss out of hand the evidence Gellman assembled that Trump’s minions are actively planning a preemptive strike to claim a premature victory and then fight to keep states from counting mail ballots, none of them are going out of their way to say they would not cooperate in such a scheme if it unfolds. Indeed, Lindsey Graham’s assurance that a newly packed Supreme Court will decide the presidential election is nearly as alarming as Trump’s threats to contest the results.
One thing that may be holding Republicans back from restraining their lawless president as he prepares to take the country down the long dark road to a disputed election is the claim percolating through conservative circles that it’s Democrats who are planning a “coup,” that Trump may be obligated to counter with a preemptive strike or at least sustained guerrilla warfare over the vote count.
The basis for this assertion is the now-famous Transition Integrity Project war-game exercise, in which the group simulating Team Biden (with Democratic pooh-bah John Podesta playing the candidate himself) refused to concede after the election was called for Trump on grounds that the Electoral College is illegitimate, and even encouraged Democratic governors to ignore the winner of their state’s vote and appoint electors for the national popular-vote winner (Biden). Others promoting the “Democratic coup” hypothesis point to Hillary Clinton’s recent advice to Biden that he should not concede under any circumstances.
So you’ve got Republicans refusing to put the kibosh on a Trump coup because key elements of their base believe Democrats are plotting their own extraconstitutional power grab. As November 3 approaches, so, too, does an atmosphere of mutually assured destruction.
But Joe Biden, perhaps as early as next week’s first presidential debate, can take a step to deescalate the growing crisis while making it clear there is just one candidate expressing unwillingness to accept the election results. He can clearly state he will not contest a Trump Electoral College win so long as all the votes are counted, and then challenge the incumbent to reciprocate by abandoning any plans to (a) claim victory before reputable independent analysts have “called” the race; (b) interfere with vote-counting in the states; or (c) disregard the results as certified by governors, as federal law provides.
I understand some Democrats would dislike such a Biden gesture as a unilateral concession he need not make. But you know and I know that regardless of what someone did in an imaginary war-game, Joe Biden is not going to contest an election won by Trump according to the Electoral College system that is unfortunately but very clearly set out in the U.S. Constitution. So giving up that “threat” costs Biden nothing, and might just keep Trump from dragging his party and the whole country to the bottom of hell.