Sunday, August 2, 2020

Will we still have a democracy post-Trump

Not if the American people vote the Orange Creep Show back into office again. The more Trump is down in the polls, the more batshit crazier he becomes. Now he aims to delay the election - or cancel it entirely.

Peter Baker at the NY Times reports on More Than Just a Tweet: Trump’s Campaign to Undercut Democracy. Floating the idea of delaying the election was the latest step in the president’s running effort to discredit the election, risking long-term damage to public trust in the system.

Nothing in the Constitution gives President Trump the power to delay the November election, and even fellow Republicans dismissed it out of hand when he broached it on Thursday. But that was not the point. With a possible defeat looming, the point was to tell Americans that they should not trust their own democracy.

The idea of putting off the vote was the culmination of months of discrediting an election that polls suggest Mr. Trump is currently losing by a wide margin. He has repeatedly predicted “RIGGED ELECTIONS” and a “substantially fraudulent” vote and “the most corrupt election in the history of our country,” all based on false, unfounded or exaggerated claims.

It is the kind of language resonant of conspiracy theorists, cranks and defeated candidates, not an incumbent living in the White House. Never before has a sitting president of the United States sought to undermine public faith in the election system the way Mr. Trump has. He has refused to commit to respecting the results and, even after his election-delay trial balloon was panned by Republican allies, he raised the specter on Thursday evening of months of lawsuits challenging the outcome.

Mr. Trump has put on the line not merely the outcome of this fall’s contest but the credibility of the system as a whole, according to even scholars and operatives normally sympathetic to the president. Just floating the possibility of postponing a presidential election, an idea anathema in America and reminiscent of authoritarian countries without the rule of law, risks eroding the most important ingredient in a democracy — the belief by most Americans that, whatever its manifest flaws, the election result will be fundamentally fair.

Jill Lepore, a Harvard University professor and the author of “These Truths: A History of the United States,” said presidents bear a responsibility to foster faith in democracy.

“Far from undermining public confidence in the democracy over which he presides, it is the obligation of every president to cultivate that confidence by guaranteeing voting rights, by condemning foreign interference in American political campaigns, by promoting free, safe and secure elections, and by abiding by their outcome,” she said.

That last observation, “abiding by their outcome,” is terribly important. What if Trump loses but then does not cede power to the winner?

Max Boot (Washington Post) Explores the scary question: What if Trump loses but insists he won?

On his present trajectory, President Trump is heading for a whopping defeat in November. The Economist says there’s nearly a 99 percent chance that Joe Biden will win more popular votes and around a 90 percent chance that he will win more electoral college votes. But what if Trump won’t concede defeat? That is a nightmare scenario for our democracy that could make the 2000 showdown over Florida’s hanging chads seem like a grade-school dispute by comparison.

Trump is already laying the foundation to dispute the election outcome with his incessant claims that “Mail-In Ballots will lead to MASSIVE electoral fraud and a RIGGED 2020 Election.” Election officials label such concerns as “preposterous” and “false.” But they will serve as an excuse for the Republican Party to purge voter-registration rolls, limit mail-in ballots, close polling stations in minority areas and challenge in-person voting by minorities. Whatever it takes to win.

It’s doubtful that anything Trump does will produce a popular-vote victory; he lost by nearly 3 million votes in 2016 and will probably lose by a greater margin this year. But it won’t matter if, by election night, he is within spitting distance of an electoral college victory.

I recently took part in a “war game” to see what would happen under those circumstances. The session was organized by the Transition Integrity Project, a nonpartisan group founded by Rosa Brooks of Georgetown Law School and Nils Gilman of the Berggruen Institute. The scenario we were given predicted a narrow Biden victory in the electoral college: 278 to 260. Various participants played the role of the Trump campaign, the Biden campaign, Republican and Democratic elected officials, the news media, and other key players to see what would happen next.

I was on Team Trump and, needless to say, we did not concede defeat. Instead, we went to work, ruthlessly and unscrupulously, utilizing every ounce of power at our disposal, to secure the 10 electoral college votes to swing the election. We focused our attention on three of the swing states that Biden won in our scenario — Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — because, in all three, Republicans control both branches of the legislature. Normally, the governor certifies the election results, and in all three states the governor is a Democrat. But there is nothing to prevent the legislature from certifying a different election outcome.

Something similar happened in the 1876 presidential election: Democrat Samuel J. Tilden was leading on Election Day in both the popular vote and in the electoral college, but the results were contested in three states. Congress appointed a commission to adjudicate the dispute, and it voted along partisan lines, 8 to 7, to hand all three states to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. That gave Hayes a 185 to 184 majority in the electoral college, and the presidency along with it.

In our scenario, there was no congressional commission. Instead, the Republican Party bombarded the airwaves with claims of electoral fraud and insisted that Trump had been cheated of victory. The GOP filed suit to prevent the certification of the results. Attorney General William P. Barr, who in real life is already making specious claims about mail-in voter fraud, supported this effort in our mock exercise by claiming to have detected efforts by Chinese intelligence, Antifa terrorists and other enemies of the people to steal the election. The goal was to tie up the proceedings in the courts, initially at the state level, and quickly force the Republican-dominated Supreme Court to intervene.

While this was going on, chaos reigned in the streets, with pro- and anti-Trump activists mobilizing massive protests and violence erupting. Democrats believed that mass protests could force the government to respect the election outcome. But, as Team Trump, we calculated that such chaos would help persuade the Supreme Court to intervene to shut down the dispute. In 2000, even two of the more moderate conservative justices — Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony M. Kennedy — voted to end Florida’s recount and hand the election to George W. Bush. Could we count on Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. — the current swing vote — to resist similar pressure to vote for the “home team”?

The danger of an undemocratic outcome only grows in other scenarios that were “war gamed” by other participants. For instance, what if there is no clear-cut winner on election night, with Biden narrowly ahead in the electoral college but with Michigan, North Carolina and Florida still too close to call? The participants in that war game concluded the result would be “near civil war in the streets.” Far-fetched rumors are enough to bring out armed right-wing militias today; imagine how they would respond if they imagined that there was an actual plot afoot to steal the election from their hero.

It is impossible to write off such concerns as far-fetched given how many seemingly far-fetched things have already occurred in the past four years.Trump got himself impeached by trying to blackmail a foreign country into helping his reelection campaign. He will stop at nothing to avoid the stigma of being branded a “loser.” Unless Biden wins by an electoral college margin that no one can credibly dispute, our democracy may be imperiled as never before. We had better start thinking now about how we would handle such an electoral crisis.

For additional details see, after the break, A bipartisan group secretly gathered to game out a contested Trump-Biden election. It wasn’t pretty. by Jess Bidgood, Globe Staff,Updated July 26, 2020, 7:50 a.m.

WASHINGTON — On the second Friday in June, a group of political operatives, former government and military officials, and academics quietly convened online for what became a disturbing exercise in the fragility of American democracy.

The group, which included Democrats and Republicans, gathered to game out possible results of the November election, grappling with questions that seem less far-fetched by the day: What if President Trump refuses to concede a loss, as he publicly hinted recently he might do? How far could he go to preserve his power? And what if Democrats refuse to give in?

“All of our scenarios ended in both street-level violence and political impasse,” said Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown law professor and former Defense Department official who co-organized the group known as the Transition Integrity Project. She described what they found in bleak terms: “The law is essentially … it’s almost helpless against a president who’s willing to ignore it.”

Using a role-playing game that is a fixture of military and national security planning, the group envisioned a dark 11 weeks between Election Day and Inauguration Day, one in which Trump and his Republican allies used every apparatus of government — the Postal Service, state lawmakers, the Justice Department, federal agents, and the military — to hold onto power, and Democrats took to the courts and the streets to try to stop it.

If it sounds paranoid or outlandish — a war room of seasoned politicos and constitutional experts playing a Washington version of Dungeons and Dragons in which the future of the republic hangs in the balance — they get it. But, as they finalize a report on what they learned and begin briefing elected officials and others, they insist their warning is serious: A close election this fall is likely to be contested, and there are few guardrails to stop a constitutional crisis, particularly if Trump flexes the considerable tools at his disposal to give himself an advantage.

“He doesn’t have to win the election,” said Nils Gilman, a historian who leads research at a think tank called the Berggruen Institute and was an organizer of the exercise. “He just has to create a plausible narrative that he didn’t lose.”

The very existence of a group like this one, which was formed late last year, underscores the extent of the fear in Washington’s political circles — and beyond — that Trump will take the same hammer he has used to fracture the norms of executive governance over the past three years and upend the nation’s delicate tradition of orderly political transitions of power by refusing to concede if he loses.

“We have norms in our transition, rather than laws,” said Rachel Kleinfeld, a senior fellow in the Democracy, Conflict and Governance Program at the Carnegie Foundation, who was not part of the game. “This entire election season is something a democracy expert would worry about.”

It is a fear that has been stoked by the president himself, who has repeatedly warned, without offering evidence, of widespread fraud involving mail-in ballots — which voters are likely to use at unprecedented levels because the pandemic has made in-person voting a potential health risk — to cast doubt on the results of November’s election.

“I think mail-in voting is going to rig the election, I really do,” he told Fox News’ Chris Wallace last Sunday. When asked if he would accept the election results, he said: “I’ll have to see.”

Former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, has taken to issuing foreboding warnings of his own. “This president is going to try to indirectly steal the election by arguing that mail-in ballots don’t work — they’re not real, they’re not fair,” he said at a fund-raiser on Thursday night. He has also mused publicly about Trump having to be escorted, forcibly if need be, from the White House.

That happened in one of the four scenarios the Transition Integrity Project gamed out, according to summaries of the exercises provided to The Boston Globe. But constitutional experts — and the game play — was less focused on the possibility of a cinematic, militarized intervention on Inauguration Day, which is a possibility many still consider remote, than the room the Constitution appears to leave for a disastrous and difficult transition if the incumbent does not accept a loss.

“How well is our constitutional legal system designed to deal with an incumbent president who insists that he won an election but for the presence of fraud?” said Lawrence Douglas, a professor at Amherst College who has written a book on what would happen if Trump took such a stand. “And I think the rather unfortunate answer is our system is not well designed at all to deal with that problem,” said Douglas, who was not involved in the game.

Brooks got the seed of the idea for the Transition Integrity Project after a dinner where a federal judge and a corporate lawyer each told her they were convinced the military or the Secret Service would have to escort Trump out of office if he lost the election and would not concede. Brooks wasn’t so sure. She and Gilman decided to turn the Washington parlor game into an actual exercise; they held an early meeting in Washington, with about 25 people, in December.

“When we started talking about this we got a lot of reactions — oh, you guys are so paranoid, don’t be ridiculous, this isn’t going to happen,” Brooks said.

Two things have happened since then: Trump has displayed increased willingness to challenge mail-in ballots, and his administration has deployed federal forces to quell protests in front of the White House and in Portland, Ore., and has threatened to do so in other cities.

“That has really shaken people,” Brooks said. “What was really a fringe idea has now become an anxiety that’s pretty widely shared.”

Brooks, Gilman, and others recruited a slate of players including a former swing state governor, a former White House chief of staff, and a former head of the Department of Homeland Security. They invited both Democrats and Republicans who they knew had concerns about Trump’s comments on the election; nearly 80 people in all were involved. The Republicans were described by participants as “never Trump” or “not Trump Republicans.”

They played using the so-called Chatham House Rules — in which participants can discuss what was said, but not who was there; some participants were willing to be named. They included Republicans Trey Grayson, the former Kentucky secretary of state, and conservative commentator Bill Kristol, as well as Democrats Leah Daughtry, who was CEO of the 2008 and 2016 Democratic National Convention Committees, former White House ethics czar Norm Eisen, and progressive Democratic strategist Adam Jentleson.

The game was elaborate. The participants took on the roles of the Trump campaign, the Biden campaign, relevant government officials, and the media —generally, Democrats played Democrats and Republicans played Republicans — and used a 10-sided die to determine whether a team succeeded in its attempted moves. The games are not meant to be predictive; rather, they are supposed to give people a sense of possible consequences in complex scenarios.

Each scenario involved a different election outcome: An unclear result on Election Day that looked increasingly like a Biden win as more ballots were counted; a clear Biden win in the popular vote and the Electoral College; an Electoral College win for Trump with Biden winning the popular vote by 5 percentage points; and a narrow Electoral College and popular vote victory for Biden.

In the scenarios, the team playing the Trump campaign often questioned the legitimacy of mail-in ballots, which often boosted Biden as they came in — shutting down post offices, pursuing litigation, and using right-wing media to amplify narratives about a stolen election.

To some participants, the game was a stark reminder of the power of incumbency.

“The more demonstrations there were, the more demands for recounts, the more legal challenges there were, the more funerals for democracy were held, the more Trump came across as the candidate of stability,” said Edward Luce, the US editor of the Financial Times, who played the role of a mainstream media reporter during one of the simulations. “Possession is nine-tenths of the law.”

In multiple scenarios, officials on both sides homed in on narrowly decided swing states with divided governments, such Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Carolina, hoping to persuade officials there to essentially send two different results to Congress. If a state’s election is disputed, a legislature controlled by one party and governor of another each could send competing slates of electors backing their party’s candidate.

Both sides turned out massive street protests that Trump sought to control — in one scenario he invoked the Insurrection Act, which allows the president to use military forces to quell unrest. The scenario that began with a narrow Biden win ended with Trump refusing to leave the White House, burning government documents, and having to be escorted out by the Secret Service. (The team playing Biden in that scenario, meanwhile, sought to patch things up with Republicans by appointing moderate Republican governors, including Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, to Cabinet positions.)

The scenario that produced the most contentious dynamics, however, was the one in which Trump won the Electoral College — and thus, the election — but Biden won the popular vote by 5 percentage points. Biden’s team retracted his Election Night concession, fueled by Democrats angry at losing yet another election despite capturing the popular vote, as happened in 2000 and 2016. In the mock election, Trump sought to divide Democrats — at one point giving an interview to The Intercept, a left-leaning news outlet, saying Senator Bernie Sanders would have won if Democrats had nominated him. Meanwhile, Biden’s team sought to encourage large Western states to secede unless pro-Democracy reforms were made.

That scenario seemed highly far-fetched, but it envisioned a situation in which both sides may have incentives to contest the election.

“There is a narrative among activists in both parties that the loss must be illegitimate,” he said.

According to the Constitution, the presidency ends at noon on Jan. 20, at which point the newly inaugurated president becomes the commander in chief.

The games, ultimately, were designed to explore how difficult it could be to get there.

“The Constitution really has been a workable document in many respects because we have had people who more or less adhered to a code of conduct,” said retired Army Colonel Larry Wilkerson, a Republican and former chief of staff to Colin Powell who participated in games as an observer. “That seems to no longer to be the case. That changes everything.”

No comments:

Post a Comment