Trump refusing to leave office is not a fantasy, because he’s doing everything to make it real

Our old friend the Fascism Watch hit midnight eight months ago as Senate Republicans affirmed that there was no crime for which they were willing to hold Donald Trump responsible. Despite Trump’s using his high office to extort a foreign nation into providing lies against a political opponent in exchange for desperately needed military aid, the Senate dismissed the idea of calling even a single witness. The disdain they demonstrated then is being repeated now as multiple senators not only reverse their previous “principled stand,” but declare that they will support Trump’s Supreme Court nominee before they even know the identity of that nominee.

In 2016, the idea that Trump might refuse to respect the outcome of the election was treated as a fringe position. In 2020, the idea that Trump might hold onto power no matter what the results at the polls is still being treated as something that isn’t worth consideration. But it demands to be taken seriously, not as a wild idea, but a possible—even probable—outcome.

The question now is not: “Would Donald Trump cheat to hold onto power?” Because that question has been asked and answered almost every day of the last four years. The question now is: “Why would Trump not cheat to maintain his grip on the nation?” And there may be no good answer.

Campaign Action

Four years ago, the Republican Party made a pretense of being against the racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and authoritarianism of Donald Trump. Then one by one, they bent the knee. They have made it clear that their loyalty lies not with principle or party, and certainly not with nation. They’ve laid their personal fealty with Trump and Trump alone. For them, there is no going back.

The same Republicans who gave Trump a pass on impeachment, the same Republicans who declared their willingness to trample their own statements in support of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, the same Republicans whose control of the Senate is also on the cusp … have exactly zero interest in “doing the right thing.” Even before Trump, Sen. Mitch McConnell discovered that the Constitution was subject to a complete end-around run by anyone willing to put their morality and concern for the nation on a shelf. Not only do they have no incentive to prevent Trump from stealing the election, they have every incentive to help.

With the Senate in his pocket, Trump has been preparing his followers for the rejection of the poll results for months. As Mother Jones points out, destroying faith in voting-by-mail has been an essential part of laying the foundation on which Trump can create claims of an invalid election. 

It’s not difficult to imagine an Election Day scenario in which Trump prematurely declares victory based on his lead among in-person votes, which are quicker to tally than mail-in votes in many states and are expected to lean more Republican. Trump then seeks to invalidate the mail-in ballots that favor Democrats before they’re counted.

This leads to an all-too-possible scenario in which Republican state legislatures either vote to reject mail-in ballots outright, or rule that the vote on the election night is the only “real” vote. Attempts to appeal these decisions in court then roll inexorably upward to a Supreme Court where Trump’s latest appointee joins with Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh to install Trump for a second term—without even necessitating a “swing vote” from John Roberts. Trump continues a string of victory rallies as he prepares to hold up his hand again on Jan. 20.

Should there be protests (and there would be), Trump has also been preparing his followers for that moment. In Portland, Oregon, and in the streets of Washington, D.C., Trump has demonstrated an ability to deploy forces that are more than willing to use chemical weapons and deadly force against even peaceful protesters. He has spent months telling his followers that “Democrat-run” cities are hopeless cesspits that deserve to burn. Fox News has done everything possible to expand on that image of anarchy that needs a hard kick.

Even if the Army and National Guard decided to sit on their hands when Trump calls—and he would call—Trump and Attorney General William Barr have already demonstrated an ability to scoop up thousands of paramilitary forces from executive agencies that are more than willing to literally bust heads for Trump. That’s not even counting the Trump supporters who are willing to bring their own guns in to Rittenhouse the unarmed, a position that Fox News is now busy buffing up to superhero status.

Trump is a guy who always wants things to be “rougher.” Always wants the police to be “tougher.” Who hasn’t hesitated to call his political opponents “traitors” or to call for the death of people who have not faced trial. No matter what the outcome, why would he not use force to hold onto power?

As The Atlantic points out, this threat is much greater than most people are allowing. 

A lot of people, including Joe Biden, the Democratic Party nominee, have mis­conceived the nature of the threat. They frame it as a concern, unthinkable for presidents past, that Trump might refuse to vacate the Oval Office if he loses. They generally conclude, as Biden has, that in that event the proper authorities “will escort him from the White House with great dispatch.”

But that scenario suggests that a defeated Trump pouts in his office and waits for his exit escort to arrive. Trump could just as easily—and perhaps, more likely—simply declare the election invalid. Fox News would certainly back him. Republicans in the House and Senate might take a minute to check the wind direction before joining in. Maybe two hours. Then they would be all in. Trump could put up a front of appealing the outcome in court while Republicans launched “investigations of massive voting fraud” in the Senate. But it would all be for show.

This isn’t a nightmare scenario … or rather, it is a nightmare. It’s just one that Trump’s teams are working to make real. They are already putting in place the legal groundwork and public perception to appeal any outcome unfavorable to Trump. As Mother Jones notes: “The question won’t be whether American democracy can survive Trump. We’ll already know that it hasn’t.”

All that remains to find out is whether democracy can be renewed. For that to happen, everyone needs to go into this election with their eyes open, knowing that the more decisive Trump’s loss, the less likely he is to be successful in his all but certain attempts to deny that defeat. Everyone is going to need to work like hell to get as many people to the polls as possible on Election Day, to see that mail-in ballots are counted, and to hold responsible every official, at every level, who gets in the way of allowing people’s votes to be counted.

You can’t push back a threat if you won’t admit it’s real, and you better not go into a fight without a plan. Donald Trump will absolutely cheat to hold onto power. He’s demonstrated that again and again. He’s been impeached for it. He will not stop now. And everyone, including Joe Biden, better have a plan for what to do when it happens.

Postal Service warned 46 states last month that their elections are in jeopardy

The U.S. Postal Service sent letters to 46 states and Washington, D.C. warning that it cannot guarantee that mailed-in ballots for the November election will arrive in time to be counted. The Washington Post got the letter through a records request. The letters were sent at the end of July from Thomas J. Marshall, general counsel and executive vice president of the Postal Service, but were planned before Louis DeJoy, Trump campaign donor and willing lackey, got his appointment in June, according to the Post. (Here's the letter sent to Minnesota's Security of State Steve Simon on July 29.)

Seven states, with a total of 40 million voters, got a narrow warning saying that for some voters, ballots could be delayed. But 40 other states—representing 186 million voters and including the battlegrounds of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida—got the more serious warning "that their long-standing deadlines for requesting, returning or counting ballots were 'incongruous' with mail service and that voters who send ballots in close to those deadlines may become disenfranchised." Some states have scrambled to move their deadlines, either bringing forward deadlines for requesting and casting ballots or setting deadlines for when the ballots have to be received and to begin tabulating them. This opens states up to legal challenges, which we've already seen the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee (they're basically one and the same) undertake. There are now some 60 suits in at least two dozen states over the issue of mail-in voting. Republicans are suing in Pennsylvania and Nevada to stop the states from setting up drop boxes for ballots. They're suing to retain strict photo ID and signature requirements for absentee ballots. They're suing to make sure getting a ballot to the elections office on time is as onerous for people as possible.

And they're sabotaging the Postal Service. Even removing mail boxes from the blue areas of red states, in this case Montana, where the blue boxes have been disappearing from the state's college towns and most populated areas, like some in Missoula "[a]cross from the center of University of Montana," and "[d]owntown in front of a large senior citizen living facility and several office buildings."

Vice News has also reported on Postal Service internal documents it obtained outlining existing plans to slow down the mail sorting process by removing sorting machines. The Postal Service originally proposed removing 20% of the machines but revised the plan down to 15%, taking 502 out of service according to the document Motherboard received. One document is dated May 15, suggesting that the plan was in the works before DeJoy took the position. But those documents are not reflective of how this is playing out, according to the Post.

They've obtained a grievance filed by the American Postal Workers Union that says the Postal Service has removed 671 mail sorting machines from across the country since June, concentrated in high-population areas. That represents a reduction in national mail sorting capacity of 21.4 million pieces of mail per hour. But the Vice disclosures make it clear that the plan to start hobbling the Postal Service has been in the works for months—DeJoy just stepped in to carry it all out. And then some. It's hard to know whether the warning from Marshall, the general counsel, to the states was a genuine attempt to save this election or an effort to stoke more panic.

What is clear, though, is that this requires immediate action from across the board—from state AGs to try to get injunctions to stop this interference with the mail (a federal offense, by the way) to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who could start immediate investigations and impeachment proceedings against DeJoy. Waiting until Sept. 17 to have him come to the House for a hearing on all this is not acceptable.