Like so many aspects of the Donald Trump presidency, the end won’t be normal. After media organizations called the election for Joe Biden, Trump refused to concede and has vowed to continue his quixotic legal quest to prove voter fraud and invalidate tens of thousands of votes in key states. Plus, he fired his defense secretary today. So what do the next 10 weeks and a post-presidency look like for Trump? Let’s play out the scenarios in today’s OZY Special Dispatch.
The election challenge is going to look like a continuation of the campaign: Trump reportedly plans to stage more rallies to bolster his case that the election was stolen, where he will brandish obituaries of people who voted to demonstrate fraud. Such claims were debunked in Michigan, as what tends to happen in these cases is election officials confuse sons with their dead fathers of the same name.
3. Transition Troubles
The Trump political appointee at the General Services Administration (GSA) is delaying signing the transition paperwork for Biden, an indication that the Trump administration will throw sand in the gears at every opportunity. While the transition has already formally begun, the GSA must agree in order for the Biden transition to have additional funds and office space, among other things. Given Trump’s stance, a traditional meeting between the incoming and outgoing presidents or Trump’s attendance at the inauguration are highly doubtful.
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You’ve been playing with your map to 270 electoral votes for a while, but who are those electors and how do they pick a president? Your vote for president goes to pick not Biden or Trump, but the electors, who are typically chosen by their respective state parties. After the vote is complete in each state, the governor must certify the result, with all contests and disputes resolved by Dec. 8. On Dec. 14, the winning electors meet in state Capitols to cast their votes for president and vice president.
2. ‘Faithless’ No More
In 2016, there was an extensive effort to get Republican electors to ditch President-elect Trump and throw the election into chaos. It didn’t happen, as only seven electors rebelled — some against Hillary Clinton and some against Trump. Then the Supreme Court ruled that states can punish so-called faithless electors to make sure they stick with their assigned candidate. But the opportunity for mischief remains if Republican legislatures in Biden-won states, for example, decide to appoint a slate of pro-Trump electors if they are convinced the result was fraudulent. Congress could end up having to sort out competing slates of electors. Trump allies have floated this as a possible path in recent days.
3. Congressional Chaos?
On Jan. 6, Congress meets in a joint session to count the electoral votes. If at least one member of the House and one member of the Senate were to challenge a state’s electors, both chambers would then have to recess to debate for a maximum of two hours and vote on the challenge. A deadlock could, theoretically, carry the process past noon on Jan. 20, in which case we’d be in the unprecedented situation of not knowing who the president is.
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Trump could try to preemptively pardon himself from federal crimes, resign and have Vice President Mike Pence do it at the eleventh hour or hope for a Gerald Ford-style pardon from Biden. But he also faces legal scrutiny at the state level on his taxes, among other matters, that stayed dormant while he was in the Oval Office. He’s likely to move to Mar-a-Lago as he’s already used his new legal residence in Florida to try to dodge New York cases against him, but he’s got enough properties around the world that he could leave the country if the heat really turned up and camp out at Trump Turnberry in Scotland. He did joke during the campaign that if he lost to Biden, he’d have to move abroad.
2. Political Powerbroker
But the wager here is that Trump stays and keeps his clout in the GOP. Within a year, it well could become Republican orthodoxy that the election was stolen from Trump with most elected officials saying so. Plenty of congressional candidates would seek out his endorsement and would be eager for him to come campaign for him in their states, and we all know Trump loves rallies. It would fuel continued grassroots energy behind him running again in 2024. Or he could pave the way for Don Jr.
3. Trump TV
Trump was widely expected to set up his own TV network after the 2016 election, but then he won. That’s still on the table, and allies like Chris Ruddy at Newsmax are playing coy about whether they’re in talks about Trump TV. Challenging Fox News would be no easy task, but Trump’s feud with Fox over not sufficiently propping up his charges that the election was stolen could provide the opening he needs — as chatter is rising in MAGA world about breaking from Fox for good.