All sides are gearing up for the 2020 presidential cycle. By this time next year we’ll be awash in debates. But a parallel 2020 issue warrants speculation: If Donald Trump is defeated, will he relinquish the presidency?
The question may initially appear inapplicable in America, with our untarnished history of orderly presidential transitions. But Trump’s extraordinary approach to executive powers, his belief in “deep state” collusions and his ability and willingness to stoke extreme behavior among his followers give one pause.
Trump presaged these concerns in 2016 when, as a candidate, he refused to say if he’d accept an electoral defeat. It isn’t difficult to make the leap that, as the incumbent, he’d reject a loss, be it at the polls or Electoral College.
Trump’s credo is to never acknowledge a mistake, never confess a lie, never ignore a slight and never admit defeat. He follows one of the “rules” laid out by his dark-soul advisor, Roger Stone: Attack, attack, attack. So, should a Democrat come out on top in 2020, it’s likely Trump’s immediate rhetoric won’t follow traditional rules—as it never does. Where other candidates would concede, Trump will attack.
But what happens after the rhetorical attack? Here’s a scenario.
Trump will refuse to concede and will order the Department of Justice to initiate an investigation. The Attorney General, whomever that may be, will leap to the charge or rebuff Trump’s command. The former will lead to one type of crisis, the latter to another.
While the DOJ scenario is playing out, Trump-supporting state election officials will launch efforts to expose voting “irregularities.” Trump will use his Twitter feed, Fox News sycophants and blood-lust public appearances to forge an alternate-universe voter fraud narrative. The media will try to keep up, all the while marveling at how far Trump can go before someone or something restrains him.
Hardcore Trump backers in Congress will pile on, especially if they lose the Senate and more seats in the House. The crisis, in their telling, won’t be a legitimately defeated president endangering the will of voters, the safety of citizens and the Constitution itself. The crisis, in their telling, will be a Democratic president and Congress engineered through a deep-state scheme of fraud and deception.
Commentators, having no historic examples to cite, will strive—and fail—to put the president-as-squatter spectacle into actionable perspective. As with all things Trump, the degeneracy of his actions will trigger no corrective responses, outrage be damned. It’ll be a further dive into the muck of Trump chaos, a further exploration of restraining a president who transcends restraints.
Trump will swell the turmoil by forbidding any interaction between his administration and the president-elect’s transition team. Exhausted cable TV producers will be constantly balancing their coverage between the assembly of the incoming administration and the defiance of the existing one. Everyone will be seeking an answer to a once-imponderable question: Who removes a president who refuses to move?
None of this even contemplates the possibility of a Republican challenger besting Trump in the primaries. If the plunging stock market sucks the economy down with it, that’s a possibility. But there are only so many hypotheticals one can take on.
Perhaps, after his trail-of-fire tour wreaks maximum havoc, Trump will play his final, cynical hand, just as he did when he took credit for ending the Obama birth conspiracy—a conspiracy Trump so energetically fueled. Trump will announce that he’s ending his quest, for the good of the nation, and he’ll credit himself for being the sole seeker of electoral fairness.
All hypothetical, of course.
But Donald Trump never acknowledges personal setbacks, much less defeats. Given his Oval Office antics thus far, is it such a stretch to think that he’d refuse to acknowledge, for as long as possible, the ultimate defeat?