TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2020
...and why in the world might he do it?: Will Donald J. Trump be defeated for re-election? Will we know that he's been defeated as early as tonight?
Here's a much more horrible question:
If Trump is defeated by the normal metrics—by a large margin in the popular vote; by the apparent tabulation in the electoral college—will he seek a way to turn the election over to the House?
That's one of the nightmare scenarios sketched by Ron Suskind in his recent essay for the New York Times. After speaking to several dozen past and present senior officials, Suskind imagined various possibilities, none more awful than this:
SUSKIND (10/30/20): Violence and conflict throughout that day at the polls would surely affect turnout, allowing Mr. Trump to claim that the in-person vote had been corrupted, if that suits his purposes. There’s no do-over for Election Day.
Under the 12th Amendment, which Mr. Trump has alluded to on several occasions, the inability to determine a clear winner in the presidential election brings the final decision to the House of Representatives. The current composition of the House, in which Republicans control more state delegations even though Democrats are in the majority, favors Trump. But the state count could flip to the Democrats with this election.
There are many scenarios that might unfold from here, nearly all of them entailing weeks or even months of conflict, and giving an advantage to the person who already runs the U.S. government.
Could Donald Trump find a way to bring the election into the House? We don't have the slightest idea—but in this morning's Washington Post, other near-term possibilities are described.
These possibilities don't involve an attempt to steal the election. In a pair of front-page reports, the Post describes conduct in which Trump might engage even if he's been defeated and he accepts that fact.
The first of these front-page reports appears above the fold. Four reporters describe a "purge" which may soon be upon us. Hard-copy headlines included:
GEARAN ET AL (11/3/20): President points to a shake-up, win or lose / Purge of top officials could add to tumult of post-election months
President Trump is signaling that Election Day could be followed by a stretch of uncertainty and chaos as a purge of top officials, legal challenges to election results and potential resistance to a normal transition cloud the prospects for an orderly post-election period no matter who wins.
Among the possible scenarios is a quick effort to fire or sideline Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, whose prominence and increasingly pointed criticism of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic have angered the president.
Other federal health officials whose approach to the pandemic has frustrated the president also may be targeted, people familiar with the discussions say.
Whether he wins or loses, Trump is planning to cut a swath through his own administration’s senior leadership, officials said. He is contemplating replacing FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, along with a slew of officials at the public health agencies, they added.
Even if Trump loses tonight, he will remain in office for almost three months. According to this reporting, he may affect a purge of major health officials, from the heads of the CDC and the NIH on down.
Only Scott Atlas, our crackpot radiologist-in-chief, would remain. This would be the state of play as we head into the eye of the storm known as the pandemic's second wave.
Question! Would Dr. Birx be on hand to offer a dollop of sanity?
You're asking a perfectly sensible question. But right below the Gearan report, a front-page report by Sun and Dawsey strongly suggests that Dr. Birx is making her way toward the door:
SUN AND DAWSEY (11/3/20): A top White House coronavirus adviser sounded alarms Monday about a new and deadly phase in the health crisis, pleading with top administration officials for “much more aggressive action,” even as President Trump continues to assure rallygoers the nation is “rounding the turn” on the pandemic.
“We are entering the most concerning and most deadly phase of this pandemic … leading to increasing mortality,” said the Nov. 2 report from Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force. “This is not about lockdowns—It hasn’t been about lockdowns since March or April. It’s about an aggressive balanced approach that is not being implemented.”
Birx’s internal report, shared with top White House and agency officials, contradicts Trump on numerous points: While the president holds large campaign events with hundreds of attendees, most without masks, she explicitly warns against them. While the president blames rising cases on more testing, she says testing is “flat or declining” in many areas where cases are rising. And while Trump says the country is “rounding the turn,” Birx notes the country is entering its most dangerous period yet and will see more than 100,000 new cases a day this week.
"Contradicts Trump on numerous points?" Based upon this wayward behavior, we'll guess that Birx doesn't expect to be in the White House fold long.
The purge of people like Esper and Wray might enable an attempt to move the election into the House. We have no way of knowing whether such an effort could ever be successful.
The removal of Wray might make certain kinds of crazy behavior more possible. The purge of all serious health care advisers means that the nation will be flying blind as "the country is entering its most dangerous period yet and will see more than 100,000 new cases a day this week."
At present, the rise in deaths from coronavirus hasn't begun to match the recent rise in cases. That said, the IHME is currently predicting that we will be experiencing 2,214 deaths per day by January 1, even assuming that current practices continue.
At that point, the defeated president would still be looking at three more weeks in office. It would be Trump and Atlas against the world. To borrow from sacred Shelley, round the decay of [a certain] colossal wreck, nothing beside [would] remain.
If Donald Trump is defeated tonight, will he really engage in this seemingly crazy behavior? Would he try to force the election into the House? Would he roll over and die in the face of a surging pandemic?
We can't answer your excellent questions. Tomorrow, though, we'll re-engage with the basic reason why he quite certainly could.
“What country are we in?” Candidate Biden is quoted saying in the report by Gearan et al. "He says the most irrational things. I don’t know what to say.”
Tomorrow: What is a "sociopath?"
Thursday: What is a "national discourse?"