Three months from tomorrow the current terms of office for Donald John Trump and Mike Pence will come to an end.
Three months ago I published my first “We’re in the Endgame Now” column, looking at the final six months of this presidential term, using the ten Domino Principles as a foundation to shape my forecast. That column has so far proven to be accurate and prescient in pretty much every material detail, and I must admit it has led to my developing a bit of a Cassandra complex. While we can’t predict the specifics of future events with certainty, The Domino Principles provide a framework that allows us to assess, in broad strokes, many of the likelihoods and probabilities for what may occur.
As I write this column, there are only 15 remaining days until the presidential and Senate election on November 3. The forecasting website fivethirtyeight.com presently gives Joe Biden an 88% chance of winning the election, and a 37% chance of him winning by a double-digit margin. It only gives a 4% chance that the election will hinge on a recount. It gives the Democrats about a 74% chance of gaining control of the Senate. These projections are reassuring, but hardly cause for extreme confidence. Trump still has a 1-in-8 chance of winning, which is not trivial. There is still better than a 1-in-4 chance that the Republicans will retain control of the Senate, which is still a substantial possibility. The consequences of such possible outcomes are so grim that this is most assuredly NOT a time for complacency.
It is heartening to see so many Americans making their voices heard in an all out effort to save democracy against an existential threat of fascism and corruption, and we must be relentless in continuing it for the next 15 days. Not only are Americans turning out to vote in record numbers, they are also opening up their pocketbooks in record amounts to provide candidates working to save democracy the resources they need to get their message out. Third quarter fundraising and cash-on-hand announcements for the presidential race and for most of the critical US Senate races show that Democratic Senate campaigns pulled in more than $240 million dollars in Q3 fundraising, vastly outpacing their Republican challengers. Joe Biden also raised $383 million for his candidacy in September, with $432 million in cash in the bank at the end of the month, vastly outpacing Trump’s $248 million in fundraising during September with $251.4 million in cash at the end of the month.
A lot has been written about Trump’s and Russia’s efforts designed to interfere in the upcoming election, suppress the vote, and cast uncertainty upon and dispute the results. In particular, Trump is preparing to do everything he can to try to dispute the results in Florida and Pennsylvania if they do not go his way. But at least as of today, there is a good chance that despite the success of some voter suppression efforts, both of these states may very well resolve for Biden with margins that are beyond reasonable dispute. Meanwhile, Arizona, North Carolina and Georgia are all leaning slightly towards Biden, and there is a realistic chance that Ohio, Iowa and Texas could also shift to Biden by the time all the votes are counted. Americans should be prepared for the possibility that votes will not be robustly counted to the point of assessing a winner until days after the actual election.
Let’s focus today on looking at what is now the most likely (but by no means certain) scenario for the next three months, in which Biden wins the election by a clear margin, despite all of Trump’s and Russia’s efforts to stop that from happening. Even this “best case” scenario is still fraught with many difficulties. If this comes to pass, what issues might we expect to manifest during the 79-day Interregnum period between election day and inauguration day?
First and foremost, of course, as winter approaches an America that has not adequately dealt with the COVID-19 crisis is going to see massive infection rates and many more deaths. 220,000+ Americans are now dead. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation forecasts that cumulative US deaths by inauguration day will range from 360,000+ to 419,000+ depending on how much socialization and masking restrictions are further eased. (Note that with universal masking, the projected number of deaths by January 20, 2021 would be far lower, around 298,000.)
As Dr. Anthony Fauci has stated, “I think we’re facing a whole lot of trouble” and “This is an outbreak of historic proportions, the likes of which we’ve not seen in 102 years.” Advances in testing, therapeutics, and potential vaccines technologies are indeed making progress, but they are not expected to make a significant impact until later in 2021. Meanwhile, leadership from the White House in setting standards for protecting Americans won’t begin until (and if) Biden takes office in late January.
It still isn’t at all clear that Trump is entirely through the medical repercussions of his COVID-19 infection. Should Biden fall ill at some point, it would surely create further drama for America.
As John Bolton stated on CNN’s “The Insiders” yesterday, “Trump will not leave graciously.” In the final days leading up to the election, it isn’t unlikely that Trump will use threats of the damage he might cause to America to try to persuade people to vote for him… “or else.” Both before and after the election, we will also see a continuing stream of people “jumping ship” to speak out about Trump’s crimes and abuses, and to claim that they were against it all along. Of course, Trump will wage war against these individuals.
Even an obvious election loss will of course be termed a corrupt hoax and conspiracy by Trump. He may deny the reality. He will certainly rage against it. He will want revenge, and this time it will be against all of America, not just the blue states that voted against him.
A lame duck Trump won’t do virtually ANYTHING for America that doesn’t provide him a personal reward or benefit. In the best possible light, Trump will go AWOL. In the most likely scenarios, however, he will burn and destroy in retreat, and almost certainly engage in vastly criminal and unethical acts to try to cover up the many vastly criminal and unethical acts he has kept hidden so far. He will also surely encourage others to commit such acts, and he will likely promise them pardons in return for doing so, implicitly or explicitly.
I expect that a lame-duck Donald Trump would see the transition time as one in which he will do everything in his power to bring financial and legal benefit and relief to his business ventures and himself. In the pursuit of such activities, I doubt that he would hesitate in the least to make deals, particularly with foreign entities, that will, in a treasonous manner, compromise America’s classified secrets along with our national security and our safety.
I don’t expect that Trump will agree to do anything with regards to the pandemic or the recession unless it significantly benefits himself and his businesses. After three more months without significant relief for the unemployed and for small businesses, a Biden presidency would begin with America seeing massive levels of people losing their homes and their companies. But at least there is some solace in that Joe Biden has experience with this kind of a situation, because it is so similar in many respects to the way that his tenure as Obama’s Vice President began.
I expect that when the current federal budget continuing resolution expires on December 11, 2020, there is a good chance that Trump will refuse to negotiate in good faith on keeping the government open until Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021. There is certainly a chance that the government will be shutdown for an extended period of time, perhaps the entire remainder of the Interregnum. But with Trump no longer having any real leverage over most of the Republican Senators, it is possible that there will at some point be enough bipartisan support for Congress to override a presidential veto or non-signing, thereby getting the government funded again.
While it isn’t at all likely, if Trump’s behavior is outrageous enough, it isn’t impossible that when the new Congress convenes on January 3, 2021, it will be forced to consider a quick impeachment in the House followed by another trial to remove Trump from office in the Senate. This would allow Pence to serve out the remainder of the term as President. Even though the Senate still won’t have 67 Democratic votes needed to remove Trump from office, it isn’t impossible that a Democratic-led Senate would be able to find 15 – 20 Republicans willing to vote to remove Trump from office a couple of weeks early in order to put an end to the madness. Depending on how crazy things get, 25th Amendment scenarios are also more likely in a lame duck presidency. Finally, it isn’t impossible that Trump might say “to hell with America” and resign early with the implicit or explicit understanding that Mike Pence will pardon him for his crimes.
My expectation is that it is quite possible that Trump will, in some way, shape, or form, attempt to facilitate pardons and/or clemency for himself, his family, his cabinet and his sycophants for anything and everything that they have done or might have ever done. The outrage and injury to America from this happening will be extensive and shocking.
The Supreme Court
As I mentioned in my column three months ago, the loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg from the Supreme Court before the end of the current presidency could have bleak and long lasting repercussions, and could have an immediate effect on Trump’s efforts to invalidate an election loss. Unfortunately that possibility has come to pass.
As I write this, a rush-through nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to fill Ginsburg’s seat is working its way through the US Senate. There is presently a strong likelihood, but not a certainty, that she will be confirmed to fill that seat.
Two key takeaways from watching this process are: 1) Trump has stated that he is in a rush to fill the seat before the election because he feels Barrett’s vote on the court could help him if an election issue makes its way to the high court. The implication here is that Trump is extremely uncertain of his ability to retain power against the will of the American people, and he is desperate to do everything he possibly can to try to fix the process in his favor. And 2) this nomination is being pushed through in such a rushed manner that the American people clearly see it as yet another effort on the part of the Republican party to pack the Supreme Court with dark-money backed justices who a) place the interests of businesses and business owners ahead of the interests of the American people; and b) lack a dedication to furthering the principles of justice and equality in a manner that reflects the values of the majority of Americans.
Because of these factors, my sense is that if Biden wins the presidency and the Senate flips to a Democratic majority, then the majority of Americans will support actions, such as the expansion of the number of justices on the Supreme Court, designed to reflect the diversity and the values of the majority of Americans. Most concerning will be the cases in which arguments are heard or decisions are issued, from November through January, before any such actions can be taken.
In late September, Nancy Cook, writing for Politico, reported that assistant to the president Chris Liddell was hard at work on developing a transition plan for a possible Trump presidency exit. Cook characterized it as “one of the most organized and functional parts of the Trump White House.” As Cook noted, however:
“The question is whether Liddell can maintain this level of professionalism if and when Trump starts paying more attention to the prospect of leaving office. Trump’s last transition team under Gov. Chris Christie also ran smoothly and made plans for hiring Cabinet officials and rolling out executive orders — until the Trump team fired Christie days after winning and threw his binders of plans in the trash.
‘I suspect the president is totally unaware,’ one former Obama transition official said about Trump and the transition plans. ‘It could go sideways as soon as he knows this is going on.'”
“Sideways” is a charitable word. My expectation is a full reverse accompanied by deliberate acts of sabotage and surprises as Biden becomes aware, post inauguration, of secret promises along with a myriad of compromising national security breaches that Trump has engaged in with foreign leaders.
A New Hope
If Biden wins, it will be a tremendous vindication and victory for the broad coalition of American conservatives, moderates and liberals who have come together to end Trump’s all out assault on democracy. Whatever chaos and darkness Trump creates during the Interregnum, the shadow from his deeds will occur under the backdrop of the hope and promise of an extraordinarily challenging but also much brighter future… one in which a broad coalition of patriots strives to work together to rebuild a better America. It will come at a time at which we will know that Americans faced the greatest challenge to democracy in the history of the country… and won.
America’s cultural problems and prejudices, once hidden, are all in the daylight now. Instead of continuing to witness the continued slow decline in American power and prestige of the pre-Trump era, the tragedies of the past four years could become a singular catalyst that puts America on an entirely different, and more promising, trajectory.
As James Carville recently wrote in A Crusade for Something Noble: “I can say with certainty that in all my years, joining in this crusade to take America back from the brink of destruction is the greatest thing I have ever been a part of in my life.” This election is our one and last chance to say loudly and clearly to the world: this was not who and what we are. This is not who and what America IS. We can be better than this. We ARE going to better than this.
It is with hope and promise that I look forward to the possibility of us exploring together what such a future might bring.
🎶Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got til its gone🎶