Trump critics fear a major constitutional crisis if Biden wins and the president refuses to concede defeat: report

Trump critics fear a major constitutional crisis if Biden wins and the president refuses to concede defeat: report
President Donald J. Trump walks from the White House Monday evening, June 1, 2020, to St. John’s Episcopal Church, known as the church of Presidents’s, that was damaged by fire during demonstrations in nearby LaFayette Square Sunday evening. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
Election '20

Some Trump critics and pundits have been asserting that a narrow victory over President Donald Trump on Election Night wouldn’t be good enough — and that former Vice President Joe Biden (the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee) needs a landslide win in order to show a thorough rejection of Trumpism. Anti-Trump pundits, including some Never Trumpers on the right, have also warned that if Biden’s victory is only a narrow one, Trump might claim that the election was stolen and refuse to concede. And journalist Peter Nicholas, in a June 16 article for The Atlantic, examines the possibility of Trump refusing to leave the White House in January 2021 even if he loses the election.

Nicholas explains, “Every four or eight years, the clock hits noon on January 20 — and the nation learns whether the old president accepts the legitimacy of the new…. That tradition’s endurance depends on Trump’s cooperation — or the resiliency of the country’s democratic institutions should he withhold it. There’s no assurance that Trump will accept the validity of the election results.”

Nicholas goes on to explain why Trump might refuse to accept a Biden victory.

“He’s already described mail-in voting as a plot to steal the election,” Nicholas writes. “And he’s trolled critics with the tongue-in-cheek suggestion that, by popular demand, he might stay in office beyond the Constitution’s eight-year limit.”

In his article, Nicholas doesn’t rule out the possibility of Trump being reelected.

“Trump could win, of course,” Nicholas notes. “But if Biden sweeps enough battleground states in convincing fashion, any claim that Trump was robbed of victory would be ludicrous on its face. At noon on January 20, he’d no longer be president — and if he boycotted the rituals surrounding the presidential handoff and holed up inside the White House, he’d be squatting.”

The journalist adds that things could get messy if Biden’s win in the Electoral College is a narrow one and Trump insists that that the election was stolen.

“If Biden were to notch a narrow victory, Trump could look to contest the results and claim he’d actually won,” Nicholas warns. “He could put the military and other tools of presidential power in an awkward spot, pressuring them to pick sides and untangle competing claims about who won. A supine Justice Department led by Attorney General William Barr might bolster Trump’s claims by putting out statements that the vote was tainted.”

In the U.S., incumbent presidents who were voted out of office have a long history of conceding defeat and congratulating the winner — from Herbert Hoover in 1932 to Jimmy Carter in 1980 to George H.W. Bush in 1992. In 2000, Vice President Al Gore didn’t concede to George W. Bush right away but eventually acknowledged that Bush had won Florida and gave a concession speech. However, critics fear that Trump, unlike Gore, would maintain that he won the election.

Democratic Rep. Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told The Atlantic that he recently spoke to a senior White House official and expressed concerns that Trump would refuse to accept the election results if he lost.

According to Smith, “I said, ‘There’s a lot of concern that if your boss loses, he’s not going to leave.’ And he said, ‘No, that’s ridiculous. Of course he would.’…. (But) there’s a zero percent chance that he would gracefully transfer power. The best we can hope for is that he would ungracefully transfer power.”

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