The Way Too Realistic Scenario: Trump Flirts With Refusal to Concede



A cornerstone of American Democracy is the peaceful transition of power from one president to another. This is what separates us from a tyrannical government, but currently, this tradition is being threatened. Since the beginning of this country, a president has never refused to leave office, but this is a serious possibility in the Trump presidency. Since the summer, Joe Biden has held a stable lead in the polls, and Trump’s behavior suggests that he is preparing for a loss. He has questioned the integrity of mail-in ballots, flirted with the possibility of a third term, and has even supported right-wing militia groups intimidating voters at the polls, or what he considers “poll watchers.” 



The refusal to leave office has never occurred at the presidential level, so there is no precedent for what the government could do, but there are a couple possible situations. Although he is down in the polls, FiveThirtyEight still gives Trump a 10% chance of winning. If Trump were to win, there wouldn’t be this worst case scenario problem. But, for the sake of argument let’s say Biden gets both a popular vote and Electoral College victory.


It is most likely that Trump would refuse to concede the election as when asked about it he says, “we’re going to have to see what happens,” and he will claim there was mass voter fraud due to mail-in ballots. He has repeatedly stated the election “will be the most inaccurate and fraudulent election in history.” First of all there is no evidence of mass voter fraud from mail-in ballots. The Washington Post reported that out of about 14.6 million votes cast by mail, in the 2016 and 2018 general elections, there was a 0.0025 percent fraud rate. The only danger is that people are more likely to make a mistake on their ballot through the mail, and therefore votes are voided.


It is important to understand that mail-in voting has been used in years prior, while not to this mass extent because of Covid. Any reasonable person would believe that if there is a risk with mail-in voting, it is important to equip the individuals that protect the mail with proper funding and tools. Trump has actually done the opposite, as he has refused funding to USPS. Trump has not been discreet in his intentions of limiting mail-in voting through his actions towards the USPS as he said, “That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting, they just can’t have it.”


He is setting the scene for his loss, and giving him a reason to fight the results. Although Trump has portrayed himself as confident in this election, he knows he is losing by a considerable margin, so he is preparing for an excuse.


Although it may seem like a long shot for Trump to successfully ignore the election results, the president actually has some jurisdiction on contesting an election. Election law scholar and former Ohio Solicitor General, Edward Foley gave an in-depth analysis of a scenario that could possibly happen. What most people predict is that Trump will be winning a lot of swing states on election day, and will claim victory, but there is a surplus of mail-in votes that will come in the next couple days. The Democrats are predicted to do much better in mail-in ballots, so these swing states are likely to swing blue. Foley specifically looks at Pennsylvania because they have a Democratic governor but a republican legislature. If Biden were to get the most votes, the governor would select the delegates, but if the republican legislature felt the election was rigged, they also could appoint delegates to vote, forcing congress to decide which set of electors is valid.


If this were to happen, the country would be heading into some deep legal disputes. It is possible that this election will be decided by the Supreme Court, and not by the American people. In this past week, Amy Coney Barett was confirmed as a new Supreme Court Justice, giving the court a 6-3 conservative majority. It is possible that the Supreme Court will be facing cases about the legitimacy of ballots and the integrity of the election, and it would not be surprising if a conservative court sided with Trump on these cases. Previously in the 2000 Presidential Election, a conservative Supreme Court voted to halt a recount in Florida, giving Bush the presidency. 


Outside of the court, violence is likely no matter who is elected. If Trump wins re-election or assumes the position not based off the vote, there will certainly be nationwide riots. If Trump were to lose and refuse to concede, the country will be going into uncharted territory. We’d expect Trump to be forced out of office, but since he has built such a cult following,  he will have the support of millions willing to reject the election alongside him.


The Democrats are preparing for Trump to delegitimize the results, and are organizing a national mobilization of legal fights to get every vote counted. The worst possible outcome of this election, and still not very likely, is this country going into a civil war. I know this sounds preposterous, but the way both sides feel going into this election, I wouldn’t cross out the possibility.