It’s clear to me that Trump is planning to lose the election.
The evidence is hard to miss. His campaign is going broke. He’s not advertising at all in some of the swing states he won last time. To the extent he is advertising, it is down in the Deep South where some states like Georgia look to be in jeopardy. He seems uninterested in debating Joe Biden. His only interest is in holding rallies that only his supporters attend.
He’s also not doing any of the things you would expect a candidate to do to win an election. He’s not moving toward the middle. He’s not telling voters his wonderful plans for a second term; he has none.
But recall that Trump did not expect to win in 2016 either, and saw the campaign as an opportunity to rebrand himself and his image. It’s easier to see now because the New York Times story on his tax returns has documented that he was losing money. The Apprentice gig had dried up and he was piling up massive loans to overseas lenders. He was likely flabbergasted to win as it wasn’t in his business plan at all. From his governing style, it is clear he was not interested in the actual mechanics of governing a country.
The 2016 campaign was a lot of fun, though. He could do what he likes to do best: hold rallies, tweet, yell at opponents and fake enemies and promote himself as the smartest and best person in the world. That’s what he’s been doing during his presidency as well, based on how he is spending his time. Actual governing continues to bore him and he just tunes it out.
So, Trump’s planning to lose should be good news, but in Trump’s case, it’s not. He realizes he’s going to lose the popular vote and the Electoral College massively, but he’s not convinced he can’t stay in power somehow anyhow. He should have “his” new member of the Supreme Court, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, in place to hear challenges to the election. With a 6-3 conservative court, three of whom he appointed, the odds look better than they should.
He’ll try every possible path to overturn the will of the voters. He’ll try to twist states with Republican controlled legislatures to award their electoral votes to him against the popular vote in the state, a possible but dubious strategy which is actually legal, in many cases. He will spin up all sorts of spurious lawsuits, making the case that the votes were rigged and that only votes cast on Election Day should count, unless, of course, mail in ballots favor him in a particular state. It’s all going to be a huge mess and he’ll hope “his” court will twist all sorts of rules to make him president anyhow. If he succeeds, it will effectively end our republic.
In addition, you can expect him to try to foment civil unrest, unchaining groups like The Proud Bois he told to “stand back and stand by” at the first presidential debate. He thrives in a climate of fear and distraction. but it’s unclear whether much of this will materialize if he loses. In any event, the clock will be against him. The Electoral College meets on December 14, not in Washington but in fifty state capitals. If some states manage to cast their electoral votes for him when they should have gone to Biden, it likely won’t be enough to deny Biden the presidency. Trump’s own foot dragging on his own reelection suggests he’ll bank it all on some last-minute Hail Mary unlikely to work.
Trump is likely to also try tactics tried out in Washington, D.C. and Portland, Oregon: placing National Guard troops in many cities to control civil unrest. As governors control the National Guard, it’s hard to see how this would work unless he somehow overrides their authority. It’s unlikely that either the National Guard or our active military would do much to occupy state capitols and keep the Electoral College from meeting. If it happens at all, it is likely to be a muted and ineffective response. In any event, if we need the National Guard to quell unrest, it will probably be to quell unrest from right-wing fringe groups like The Proud Bois.
A more likely result will be calls from some states to secede from the country. This does nothing to make him president, but does allow certain states to express their dismay about the direction of the country. There doesn’t appear to be the passion for a new confederacy in the South there was at the start of the last Civil War, and any new confederacy would be a much more shrunken version. The only real pivotal event would be some sort of military occupation of the U.S. Capitol to keep the Congress from certifying the results of the election. With no certification though, Nancy Pelosi would become acting president.
So, most likely Trump is checkmated. There are too many loose ends, too many improbable things that have to happen, and too little time to do it. He’ll likely slink out of the White House at the last possible second. All of Trump’s actions so far have been to build a case for why he will lose. You’ve heard many of them: rigged ballots, the deep state, Never Trumpers, etc. His goal is to leave office with the hanging question that the election was illegitimate somehow. Most likely when gone he will refocus his efforts for a run in 2024, God help us.
Which is Trump’s way of winning. The presidency has never interested him, but he is very much interested in saving face, staying in the news and in everyone’s mind. Those of us hoping his defeat will mean seeing and hearing much less from him are likely to be disappointed. The best we can hope for is he spends years fighting civil and criminal charges, maybe ends up in prison, and that Twitter cuts his feed. If a criminal conviction looks likely, I expect he will simply flee the country. He lives by his own rules and won’t be held accountable. He had better hope that Vladimir Putin will be willing to take him in.
In any event we will all need extra antacids after November 3, not fewer.