U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in the briefing room at the White House on November 5, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Why Trump won’t concede

America is on the verge of a constitutional crisis

Artillery Row

“I WON THIS ELECTION, BY A LOT!,” tweeted Donald Trump in all capital letters late in the morning of 7 November, the 103rd anniversary of the coup d’état that brought the Bolsheviks to power in Russia.

If you pay attention to the mainstream media, and even a fair part of the conservative media, however, the US presidential election has been won by his Democratic opponent Joe Biden. Biden’s lead suggests he has won just enough votes in a handful of swing states to win the electoral college balance that constitutionally decides the outcome.

Within minutes of Trump’s bold tweet, multiple news outlets, including even Fox News, almost simultaneously called the election for the Democratic challenger, who duly accepted their decision that they “have chosen me to lead our great country.” No results in any state are yet certified, but at least in the media-industrial complex and among those who believe in it, it is now a given that on 20 January 2021 Biden will be inaugurated as America’s 46th president.

Donald Trump has not and will not voluntarily concede defeat in the 2020 election

Even before Biden’s coronation by the media, which are apparently unaware that the US Constitution does not give them the power to determine the victor in presidential elections, this increasingly unavoidable narrative was accompanied by far-ranging discussion of what the expected Biden administration will mean for the usual host of policy issues, which personnel it will employ, how it will be perceived abroad, and what its admittedly pallid electoral mandate says about the sorry state of American politics. The markets have already registered their approval of a likely divided US federal government, with a very close election and at least a Republican Senate placing an effective break on Biden initiatives.

The same media that are already welcoming Biden to office, in some cases through cringing tears, describe Trump’s objections and complaints as by turns dangerous, childish, amusing, and unrealistic, and invariably modify them with the adjective “false.” They, including even the Rupert Murdoch-owned outlets that supported the president, are urging Trump to accept the reality of his defeat and, with various levels of hope for “grace,” “legacy,” and the “good of the country,” resign himself to leaving office in a way they would find dignified.

Biden’s campaign has suggested that an unwilling Trump may be “escorted out” of the White House in January, in the manner of a “trespasser.” A new video meme using the popular scene of Hitler’s breakdown in the 2004 film Downfallimagines Trump in the forlorn Führer’s role, awaiting a magical turnabout in the balloting to save him like the illusory Steiner attack was supposed to break the Red Army’s encirclement of Berlin. It has been viewed five million times.

Trump does not like to give up, lose, or stop even slightly short of getting his way on just about anything

But whether a Biden administration will happen at all is very much in doubt. The simple fact is that Donald Trump has not and will not voluntarily concede defeat in the 2020 election. Reports from inside the White House suggest that Trump has only become more resolute in his determination to hold on as the vote counts against him grow. Thousands of acolytes, many leading Republicans, and his children have taken to social media to declare their fealty to the president and their belief that the election is at risk of being “stolen.” Their pronouncements are often accompanied by accusations or claimed evidence of voter fraud, possibly on a scale large enough to make a difference.

Trump’s recent written statement on the subject magnifies the issue beyond himself. “This is no longer about any single election,” he wrote, “this is about the integrity of our entire election process. We will pursue this process through every aspect of the law to guarantee the American people have confidence on our government.” He closed with, “I will never give up fighting for you and our nation.”

It is already abundantly clear that Trump does not like to give up, lose, or stop even slightly short of getting his way on just about anything. Admitting that he lost re-election to the presidency will come as the greatest blow of his life. It would be a rejection not merely of his performance – which survived scandals, criminal accusations, the mass legal prosecution of his acolytes, the Covid-19 pandemic, Covid-19 infection, economic devastation, and even a full-blown impeachment – but a rejection of him personally. It would be worse than defeat in an initial presidential run which, as Biden has shown, can be repeated multiple times without shame.

Becoming the first US president to lose re-election in 28 years means personal and political oblivion. Running again in 2024, as an older man than Biden is now, would be virtually out of the question and has only been done with success once in American history, when Grover Cleveland pulled it off in 1892.

Whatever legacy Trump has will be forever tarnished if he goes now, and he knows that very well

Leaving office in this way would be an unacceptable humiliation, but the ancillary consequences could be even worse. Whereas the only other one-termers in recent memory, George H. W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, went on to respected later lives as elder statesmen, a role enjoyed even by the disgraced Richard Nixon after his unique resignation from the presidency, Trump has no hope of such a future. Half the country, most of the administrative-managerial elite, and virtually all of the mainstream media that just declared his defeat in the absence of any official results despise him and want him not merely defeated, but ruined. Unlike all other former presidents, he reached the top office in the land by flouting the norms and standards of professional discourse and conduct, an approach that made him both objectionable and a significant threat to be neutralized by a high-level “resistance” organised around what some investigative journalists have described as a “soft coup” run by the “deep state.”

Whatever legacy Trump has will be forever tarnished if he goes now, and he knows that very well. Instead of leading charitable efforts, offering grandfatherly commentary on current issues, or beneficently endorsing Republican candidates in future elections, a former President Trump would be Public Enemy #1 or something close until the end of his days. He would likely face criminal charges on a range of alleged transgressions in places like New York City, where he is unlikely to find sympathetic juries among a populace said to be dancing in the streets at the media’s pronouncement of his defeat.

Unlike Nixon, Trump cannot rely on his successor to pardon him pre-emptively, unless he were to resign suddenly and hope that Vice President Mike Pence would do so while finishing out the remaining ten weeks or so of Trump’s term. And even if such an unlikely scenario did happen, Trump would still face debilitating civil litigation and an unending stream of media hassle. Trump’s creditors, to whom he may owe as much as $1 billion, are reportedly preparing to step up their collection efforts, from which the presidency would no longer shield him. In his almost certain misery as a private citizen, his children’s ambitions, which reportedly include political projects, would also be over, whether by association or implication.

Trump shows no signs of leaving. “The simple fact,” he announced from his Virginia golf club in a statement that some journalists have refused to post, “is this election is far from over. Joe Biden has not been certified as the winner of any states, let alone any of the highly contested states headed for mandatory recounts, or states where our campaign has valid and legitimate legal challenges that could determine the ultimate victor.” Multiple state government leaders had already acknowledged that tight races are close enough to merit recounts and have stated that those recounts will be held.

Court challenges to multiple state votes are expected to begin Monday morning, and one challenge to Pennsylvania’s voting has already provisionally succeeded in the Supreme Court, two-thirds of whose justices were appointed by Republicans, and one-third by Trump. That same sympathetic body will be the court of final appeal in any legal challenge to final results favouring Biden. It will almost certainly rule on partisan lines, as it did in 2000 with a smaller Republican-appointed majority.

Trump’s statement continued that it is “shocking” that Biden “wants ballots counted even if they are fraudulent, manufactured, or cast by ineligible or deceased voters,” and maintained that his opponent’s campaign may be engaged in various other forms of “wrongdoing.” Pledging that he “will not rest until the American People have the honest vote count that they deserve and that Democracy demands,” his is not a spirit of reconciliation.

On top of that, he knows that more than 70 million Americans voted for him and are unhappy today, and that the non-presidential votes last week indicate a widespread rejection rather than affirmation of Democratic policies. He can also be reasonably confident that the military will not act extra-constitutionally to oust him, but that it and law enforcement can be relied upon to handle civic disturbances to the constitutional order.

In these collected circumstances, Donald Trump is not going anywhere. Would you?

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try three issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £5

Subscribe
Critic magazine cover