Donald J Trump is going by a determined play book, one that is not governed by any rules of the game but by his own perceptions on what the outcome should be or must be. Two weeks plus being in denial of what November 3 had in store for him and refusing to concede, Trump finally gave the green light to the General Services Administration to start the transition process with its chief adamantly insisting till the very end that she had not been pressured into doing anything but was only going by established procedures. In asking the GSA to provide the Biden-Harris team money and other facilities, the 45th President also made it clear that he was pursuing legal options as well.
Even before November 3, Trump had made one thing known, or at the very least had made sure that everyone understood where he was coming from: that if he did not come out on top, he was not going to leave the White House without a fight, whether it had merits or not. From the very beginning of this election’s battle, Trump had made one thing very clear: that his fight to stay behind the Resolute Desk was going to be political, not legal. The legal mechanisms and procedures were only a cloak to achieve political mileage.
In going the legal route in questioning the “massive fraud” in the electoral process, Trump’s team forgot one basic aspect of law: that in a court and before a judge, what matters most is evidence. And the fact that as many as 34 cases filed by the Trump campaign and supporters of the President were thrown out was seen by many in the legal fraternity as nothing more than a flimsy attempt to delay the process; and in one or two instances the presiding Judges—Republicans at that—were derisive in their comments when tossing the cases out. As legal and media pundits mused: where is the question of a cure without the disease?
Trump’s final writing on the wall came not just from the judiciary in three critical battleground states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, but also the hand recount in Georgia – all of them that confirmed that Joseph Biden had won in those states by handsome margins unlike that of 2016 when President Trump had barely managed to hang on for a win. When the legal game failed, Trump and his cronies tried to muzzle the Republican political machines in the battleground states to de-certify the people’s verdict. That too failed miserably when fellow Republicans refused to fall in line, especially in Michigan and Georgia. And then came the big blow to Trump: moderate Republican politicians in the Senate and well-meaning members of the Grand Old Party started speaking out in favor of the transition process to begin.
The consensus in America and elsewhere was that the legal drama that unfolded in courts was a spectacle that could have been avoided for the simple reason that it was embarrassing to see the Super-Duper Legal team of Trump whipping out fantastic conspiracy theories that literally numbed the onlookers: how about the one of Hugo Chavez, the former leader of Venezuela who is dead and gone acting hand in gloves with China and George Soros to funnel money into the Democratic machine to rig the election outcome? Some of the claims were so outlandish that members of the Trump legal Team had to start disowning some of their own!
President Trump will never concede the election for the simple reason that in accepting the verdict he goes back on his cardinal premise: that mail-in ballots are the biggest fraud perpetrated in the American electoral process. In staying with this unproven myth of wholesale fraud, Trump has been able to energise his electoral base which is pretty substantial if the popular vote for him is anything to go by. Politically, Trump is also looking at two things: in the short term it is the two run-off races in Georgia that could tip the balance in the Senate this January; and from a longer term point of view it is his own ambition of making another comeback in 2024 or perhaps that of his daughter Ivanka Trump who is said to be nursing political ambitions. The legal fight is nothing more than a smokescreen to keep the political base intact.
Historians will maintain that what is happening in the United States today by way of Trump and the difficult transition process has precedents, going back to when Lincoln and Roosevelt won the presidencies in 1860 and 1932. And closer to our memory will be the Clinton- Bush transition in 2000 that was quite messy as it waded through the courts for three weeks after the November 7 elections. In fact there have been allegations that staffers were so outraged at the Supreme Court verdict for George W Bush that they went on a rampage inside the White House, ripping off phones from the walls and pulling out the “W” letter in desktops. Again, these were only allegations at that time.
The difference between 2000 and 2020 is for all to see: Al Gore conceded the election first in a telephone call to Bush; and then back tracked as he was informed by aides that Florida was still in play; in 2020 Trump consistently maintained even prior to the election date that he was not sure if he will accept the verdict if it went against him. “It all depends,” was his favorite refrain! With a President so convinced that the entire machinery is ganged up against him, there is the fair chance that he will leave Washington to his new found home in Florida and continue to maintain over the next several years that he won the election of November 3, 2020.
(The writer is a former senior journalist in Washington DC covering North America and the United Nations)