Imagine if Donald Trump, at this moment, were to do the very least any other president would do in his place.
You can’t imagine. You might as well imagine John Lennon writing the lyrics.
The very least would be, even as Trump baselessly contests the election results, to allow Joe Biden to move ahead with the transition because, let’s agree, not allowing the transition to proceed, not allowing Biden access to classified intelligence briefings, represents a true danger to the country.
Don’t take my word for it. The great historian, Sean Wilentz, says that if Trump, in the end, continues to question the legitimacy of Biden’s victory, “It would be an act of disloyalty unsurpassed in American history except by the Southern secession in 1860-61, the ultimate example of Americans refusing to respect the outcome of a presidential election.”
Trump has other things on his mind. He’s now busily using Twitter to war with his old pals at FoxNews — because they were apparently disloyal to have called Arizona for Biden — and is now crowing, I guess, over Fox’s low daytime ratings. Seriously.
Presumably in response to his critics, Trump was expected to take some time out Friday to update us on a possible COVID vaccine and how it would be distributed. It would be nice, as COVID cases skyrocket, if Biden had access to more detailed information. We know how bad it’s getting, and it’s even worse than that. As the Washington Post is reporting, more than 130 Secret Service agents have contracted the virus or are quarantined because they’ve come in contact with an infected person. It is thought that Trump’s flurry of campaign rallies — with no social distancing and little mask wearing — is at the source of the problem.
Still, given the urgency of the situation, let’s say, just for laughs, that Trump is persuaded to move ahead with the transition, which he could then stop if — and this will never happen — he somehow still wins the presidency. Even some of the less timid Republicans are saying as much. (Not Cory Gardner, of course, who’s still hiding out in that undisclosed location.) It’s a win-win situation, but there’s no such thing to Trump — whose guiding principle is that only one side gets to win.
You can’t imagine Trump doing even that much, or little, because if we could, it wouldn’t be Donald Trump. And if he weren’t Donald Trump, he wouldn’t be the would-be authoritarian who is a global laughing stock and, at the same time, the leader of an American cult following that numbers in the tens of millions. Refusing to concede is the political equivalent of shooting someone on 5th Avenue. The base is the base.
Trump doesn’t know how to lose graciously, or, for that matter, win graciously. You may remember the ill-fated commission to find the so-called 3 million illegal voters in the 2016 election. They didn’t find, uh, any. No, there is nothing gracious about Trump, and yet 71 million voted for him, and that’s the great tragedy of 2020. In the midst of the worst pandemic in a century, with tens of thousands of lives needlessly lost, with the country in economic crisis, with schools not made sufficiently safe in many places for kids to attend, he gets 71 million votes. No loser ever got that many. Of course, it’s still 5 million fewer and counting than Biden received.
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So where does Trump go from here?
If that question doesn’t worry you, you haven’t been paying attention. I wouldn’t worry too much about a coup. You think the losers and suckers in the military are going to defend Trump? And I wouldn’t worry too much, either, about whether he will leave the White House on time. He’s not going to be frog-marched out. But that doesn’t mean he’d attend Biden’s inauguration or that he’d even talk to him.
What Trump will almost certainly do is continue his revenge firing spree. My guess is that the only thing saving Dr. Tony Fauci, as one reader suggested, is that he’s not a political appointee. Firing him would be messy, and then watching Biden immediately rehiring him would make Trump look like a fool.
He’ll keep up the purging, as at the Pentagon, and also among U.S. cybersecurity officials who found that the election was “the most secure in American history.” It would still be surprising if FBI Director Christopher Wray survives. This reminds me of nothing more than how truly authoritarian governments respond — by burning all the papers as they’re being chased from office.
There is a theory that Trump’s refusal to concede is a way to keep the base fired up for the two Senate runoffs, scheduled for Jan. 5, in Georgia. The Dems need to win both to win control of the Senate. But I doubt if Trump particularly cares who wins in Georgia, where the Republican senators — in keeping with the 2020 theme — accused the Georgia secretary of state of running a shoddy election and called on him to resign. The kicker here is that the secretary of state is a Republican.
I think it’s just as likely that Trump’s refusal to concede could backfire in Georgia, which has gone for Biden by a little more than 14,000 votes at last counting. It could just as easily fire up the Democrats, who could get one more shot at voting to thwart Trump. In any case, you can guess it will be the most expensive set of senatorial elections in history.
In a great piece in the New York Times Friday, Maggie Haberman writes that Trump has no grand strategy to stop Biden. He knows, in times of lucidity, that he has no chance of winning. He still, at times, clings to the idea that in states that he loses, if there’s a Republican-controlled legislature, it will bail him out by choosing their own electors for the Electoral College. That would not only be a constitutional crisis beyond reckoning, it might also be the end of the Electoral College. It won’t happen.
What Haberman also reports is that Trump is beginning to whisper about running in 2024, which would, of course, freeze the Republican field and allow Trump, in whatever he does next, to set up his government in exile at Mar-a-Lago.
Meanwhile, the farce continues. Presumably in response to the Times story, Trump gave an interview to Byron York at the Washington Examiner in which he outlines a path to, uh, victory, overturning one state count after another. “Never bet against me,” he warns.
The advice comes a little late. At last count, 76 million Americans have made that bet — enough, it seems, for Biden to win 306 Electoral College votes and the presidency.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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