By Linda F. Hersey
November 30, 2020
Although Donald Trump is the first sitting president to refuse to concede after losing a U.S. democratic election – shocking the nation and leaders across the world — his wild claims of conspiracy and election fraud come as no surprise to a handful of academics, attorneys and political strategists who weighed the danger of such an outcome prior to Election 2020.
They predicted that if Trump lost, he might treat defeat like the cancellation of his TV show or a real estate deal that failed to close – with bombast, anger and legal threats.
Under a headline titled “The Election That Could Break America,” journalist Barton Gellman wrote in Atlantic Magazine in September that if Trump lost the electoral vote, he might just try to “subvert the process” and “throw the election into chaos.”
Gellman, an author and staff writer for the Atlantic, wrote that without an obvious landslide victory by Biden, Trump might seek to create enough confusion and ambiguity to hold onto power after a loss. Barton based his essay on interviews with experts on the presidency and concluded that Trump, by his personality, cannot accept defeat.
“The Twentieth Amendment is crystal clear that the president’s term in office ‘shall end’ at noon on January 20, but two men could show up to be sworn in. One of them would arrive with all the tools and power of the presidency already in hand,” Gellman described.
Scholars note that the Constitution does not articulate the terms of a “peaceful transition” of leadership yet presumes it will take place.
In 1787, Alexander Hamilton proposed during the Constitutional Convention that presidents serve for life. The proposal lost – on a vote.
In 2020, Trump gave clues to his post-election behavior during the campaign as well as during his first run for office, telling interviewers that he was not prepared to acknowledge defeat and was not sure if he ever would.
While such tenaciousness in the rough-and-tumble Manhattan real estate world has worked for Trump over the years, the necessity for the leader of the United States to honor the election process calls for integrity and the graciousness to acknowledge loss, to ensure the continuity of a free government.
‘Calling an Election Unfair Does Not Make It So’
The Trump campaign instead has filed numerous lawsuits in six battleground states trying to disqualify mail-in ballots and block certification of the results. U.S. courts have rejected those efforts. Appeals were filed in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
“Several of the suits filed by the Trump campaign and its allies have been dismissed or withdrawn, and the ones that are still before the courts don’t appear to challenge enough votes to affect the race,” Bloomberg News reported.
A federal appeals court in Pennsylvania on Nov. 27, 2020, rejected the latest effort by Trump’s legal team to overturn election results: “Free, fair elections are the lifeblood of our democracy. Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here,” Judge Stephanos Bibas wrote for the three-judge panel.
Trump has vowed to take his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, but some question whether he will pursue it. He does not want to face more failure.
A Nov. 28, 2020, article in The Washington Post raises questions about Trump’s mental fitness and ability to accept the reality of his loss. Instead, the reporters write that Trump surrounds himself with soothsayers more than willing to “indulge” his fantasies of victory over Biden:
“Sequestered in the White House and brooding out of public view after his election defeat, rageful and at times delirious in a torrent of private conversations, Trump was, in the telling of one close adviser, like ‘Mad King George, muttering, I won. I won. I won.’ ”
Casting Himself as the Victim of a Rigged Election
Trump may see the best strategy as casting himself as the perpetual victim, especially if he should seek to run again – in 2024. It is not surprising that the candidate who vowed to “drain the swamp” four years ago alleges a rigged system in 2020, when voted out of office after one term.
Such rhetoric keeps his followers agitated and energized, and in Trump’s mind, preserves his status as an outsider who does not cozy up to the D.C. elite — the same tack he took in 2016.
Another Trump run is possible.
Either Trump, or his eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, have been floated as potential GOP candidates, as Ivanka proved deft at fund-raising and speaking to Donald Trump supporters.
Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, are considering relocating to Bedminster, New Jersey, a sure sign that the entire Trump clan is moving on. Some speculate the Kushners will avoid returning to New York City and the liberal-leaning social scene, where Ivanka once flourished but now would be ostracized.
The president is spending more time on his favorite golf course in Virginia, away from the media and from public attention, avoiding answering questions and keeping people in suspense about his next move. The “what ifs?” and speculation on whether he will concede are a cliffhanger that give Donald Trump the attention he craves.
In the clearest statement yet of his intentions on stepping down, Trump said on Nov. 26, at a press conference, that he would leave office at the end of his term, though he did not admit he lost.
The press conference marked the first time that Trump took questions from the White House press pool since the election.
“Certainly, I will. But you know that,” Trump said at the White House.
Atlantic Magazine covers news, politics and lifestyle, with long-form articles and in-depth reporting.
League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan group that encourages informed and active participation in the government.
Vote Smart, formerly called Project Vote Smart, is a national non-profit, non-partisan research organization that helps inform the public on candidates running for office.