Fivethirtyeight.com gives Joe Biden a slightly more than 70% probability of winning the Electoral College. He leads in all the states Hillary Clinton won in 2016, and currently has an 82% chance of winning Michigan, a 75% chance of winning Pennsylvania, and a 72% chance of winning Wisconsin. If he wins those three, which Trump took by a combined margin of just 77,000 votes in 2016, Biden becomes the next president.
Provided Trump leaves.
In June, a group called the Transition Integrity Project war-gamed Trump’s reaction to defeat. (Full disclosure: the exercise was co-conducted by Nils Gilman, now vice president of the Berggruen Institute but previously an associate chancellor at UC Berkeley; I worked with him often.) The result was that “in each scenario other than a Biden landslide, we ended up with a constitutional crisis that lasted until the inauguration, featuring violence in the streets and a severely disrupted administrative transition.”
So I hope that, in addition to protecting his flanks (Minnesota, Nevada, and New Hampshire), continuing full throttle in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and taking the offensive in red states within reach (Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina — those of you dreaming about Texas and Georgia, get over yourselves!), Biden is gearing up for a post-election fight that determines the fate of democracy.
The Transition Integrity Project is pessimistic about effectively responding to Trump’s refusal to leave office. As former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum, a participant in the exercise, put it in this depressing article:
The courts offered only slow, weak, and unreliable remedies. Street protests were difficult to mobilize and often proved counterproductive. Republican elected officials cowered even in the face of the most outrageous Trump acts. Democratic elected officials lacked the tools and clout to make much difference. Many of the games turned on who made the first bold move. Time after time, that first mover was Trump.
So Gilman recommends preparation for the following:
- We will not have an election day, we will have an election season.
- Our antiquated election process will allow Trump to pursue multiple legal challenges to the results of the popular vote.
- As commander-in-chief, Trump will have government resources Biden won’t, and will use them.
- Trump’s allegations of electoral fraud will find a large, sympathetic audience, and some of that audience will resort to intimidation and violence.
- The courts alone will not solve the problem.
- Even if Trump leaves, his departing administration will sabotage the incoming one.
Gilman suggests preventive actions (thinking like a risk manager!), but given how little time we have before the election, I’m not confident all the institutions that need to mobilize will.
So what can we do? First and foremost, vote. The more convincing a Biden victory is, the more likely the people who comprise the federal government will desert Trump on January 20, 2021.
Second, learn from Belarus and the Eastern European revolutions of 1989 and gird for mass demonstrations if Trump defies the will of the people. Yes, that’s scary. But when you’re ready, sign up with Protect the Results.
Last, aggressively seize the narrative. The indignation over the post office seems to have worked, as Trump’s postmaster general is (avowedly) backing off plans to impede mail-in voting. The more we frame the debate, the better our chance of prevailing not just with the public and the sycophants enabling Trump, but with those likely to make the ultimate decision about who wins the election: the Supreme Court and, if it comes to that, the military.
Consider this a first step on that path.