WASHINGTON: One cartoon shows him barricading himself inside the White House with heavy-duty locks and bolts. Another shows a crane hoisting him out of 1600, Pennsylvania Avenue. A third shows the Statue of Liberty’s upraised arm catapulting him into outer space.
US President Donald Trump’s loss in the presidential election is a foregone conclusion barring partisan, activist judicial intervention. But when and how he will concede defeat is animating both chroniclers of contemporary history and his own inner circle, which is reported to be mortally afraid of giving the notoriously tetchy President the bad news.
The solution: Let him hear the drip-drip-drip of setbacks from the counting front, where he is now behind in four battleground states, and from courts, which have largely ruled against him, amid some insignificant victories. For instance, in Pennsylvania, courts agreed that poll observers could move closer to counting tables, something Trump presented as a massive legal victory.
Even Republican lawyers concede that such verdicts are not “outcome determinative” and many of the procedural complaints are not well-founded. That hasn’t stopped Trump, who has famously said he hates to lose, from launching a volley of lies and falsehoods on Twitter, many of which the social media platform flagged and masked for misinformation.
Among them were claims that “tens of thousands of votes were illegally received after 8 P.M. on Tuesday, Election Day, totally and easily changing the results in Pennsylvania and certain other razor thin states” and “hundreds of thousands of Votes were illegally not allowed to be OBSERVED… This would ALSO change the Election result in numerous States, including Pennsylvania, which everyone thought was easily won on Election Night, only to see a massive lead disappear, without anyone being allowed to OBSERVE, for long intervals of time, what the happened…”
“Bad things took place during those hours where LEGAL TRANSPARENCY was viciously & crudely not allowed. Tractors blocked doors & windows were covered with thick cardboard so that observers could not see into the count rooms. BAD THINGS HAPPENED INSIDE. BIG CHANGES TOOK PLACE!” Trump added in another bogus claim. Counting of votes does not take place without observers from both sides present, and the volley of tweets appeared aimed at inciting his base of conspiracy theorists who live in a nonsensical echo chamber.
But even the Trump-leaning media like Fox News and WSJ are now preparing him for defeat, with lower court ruling going against the President and the US Supreme Court seemingly reluctant to intervene.
The scenario now emerging is one where the President will not concede defeat right up until Inauguration Day, and if states certify election results that gives electoral votes from each state to whoever got majority of that state’s popular vote (which would confirm Biden as the winner), Trump will carry his grievance immediately to his now expanded base, immediately launching his 2024 Presidential election campaign.
In fact, Trump filed to run for President in 2020 as soon as he won the 2016 elections, an option available in a country that is a perpetual election machine. Midterm congressional elections- when the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate will be up for re-election- will also be available for Trump to test the waters.
All that provided he survives the legal challenges that are certain to cascade upon him once he demits office — which is why one scenario often envisaged is him resigning before January 20 to enable his vice-president Mike Pence to succeed him so he (Trump) can obtain a pardon. The catch here: Some cases are under state jurisdiction; a President is empowered to pardon only federal crimes.
Alternately, Trump could push legal and executive boundaries by pardoning himself. Twice during his presidency, he has tweeted that he has the “absolute right to PARDON myself.”
For now though, the US President appears hellbent on fighting it out till all legal options run out, and perhaps even after, as some in his inner circle, including his sons Don Jr and Eric, have urged. There will be no concession speech- which in any case is a convention, not required by law — although it has been a norm for 124 years delivered by every defeated candidate.