Sunday, July 26, 2020


I don't know how seriously to take reports like this:
On the second Friday in June, a group of political operatives, former government and military officials, and academics quietly convened online for what became a disturbing exercise in the fragility of American democracy.

The group, which included Democrats and Republicans, gathered to game out possible results of the November election, grappling with questions that seem less far-fetched by the day: What if President Trump refuses to concede a loss, as he publicly hinted recently he might do? How far could he go to preserve his power? And what if Democrats refuse to give in?

“All of our scenarios ended in both street-level violence and political impasse,” said Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown law professor and former Defense Department official who co-organized the group known as the Transition Integrity Project. She described what they found in bleak terms: “The law is essentially ... it’s almost helpless against a president who’s willing to ignore it.”
This Boston Globe story doesn't give us a lot of details about how the secenarios unfolded. We're told that Trump was forcibly escorted out of the White House at the end of one. In three of the four scenarios, Joe Biden won the Electoral College. Did Trump manage to cling to power after any of those wins? It's not clear.

At least some of the participants in this exercise were well known. Few are named, but the Republicans were anti-Trumpers -- two who are identified were Bill Kristol and Colin Powell's former chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson. We're also told that the participants included " a former swing state governor" (I suspect it was John Kasich), "a former White House chief of staff, and a former head of the Department of Homeland Security."

This certainly seems plausible:
In the scenarios, the team playing the Trump campaign often questioned the legitimacy of mail-in ballots, which often boosted Biden as they came in — shutting down post offices, pursuing litigation, and using right-wing media to amplify narratives about a stolen election.
But one participant -- possibly speaking for others -- really seemed to misread the country.
“The more demonstrations there were, the more demands for recounts, the more legal challenges there were, the more funerals for democracy were held, the more Trump came across as the candidate of stability,” said Edward Luce, the US editor of the Financial Times, who played the role of a mainstream media reporter during one of the simulations.
Donald Trump has many weapons at his disposal if he wants to try to cling to power after an election loss, but the general impression that he's a figure of stability is not one of them. He's trying to make that case right now by sending armed provocateurs into major cities. This is stirring the blood of Trump's base, but the rest of the country appears to be reacting with indifference -- Trump's job approval numbers continue to be awful, and his numbers in a matchup with Biden aren't getting better.

If Trump steals this election, it won't be because he wins respect as the strongman in a turbulent nation. It'll be because no one knows how to prevent him from doing legally indefensible things that the majority of Americans don't want done. It'll be because he has the Supreme Court, the U.S. Senate, and Rpublican-controlled state legislatures on his side, and no one can force them to acknowledge or ratify Biden victories in key states. Under these circumstances, Trump will continue to be widely hated, and to be seen as having driven the nation into a state of chaos, but he might emerge from the chaos having manipulated his way to a second term, with the help of people much smarter than he is, and nearly as amoral -- William Barr, Mitch McConnell, John Roberts -- along with lockstep loyalists in state governments.

Besides, Trump doesn't really want to be a stabilizing influence. He may think he does, but what he really wants is what he enjoys so much on Fox: endless conflict, with people like him depicted as heroes fighting a never-ending battle against the forces of pure evil. A public that doesn't want that seems prepared to defeat him decisively. Let's hope we succeed.

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