The Debate Crisis: What to Do About Donald

Right now I imagine the debate commission is having a serious Zoom meeting to discuss what to do about the other two debates. Right now a lot of Serious People are callling for the remaining two debates to be canceled rather than submit the nation to another embarassing display of whatever-that-was. See:

OK, this just in:

The Commission on Presidential Debates announced Wednesday that it would add “additional structure” to the remaining faceoffs between President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden following Tuesday night’s chaotic clash in Cleveland, saying “more orderly discussion is needed.”

The announcement came as both candidates returned to the campaign trail, and Biden called Trump’s behavior at the debate “a national disgrace” during a stop in Ohio. Meanwhile, several GOP lawmakers urged Trump to address his refusal during the debate to condemn self-described white supremacists. Democrats widely denounced Trump’s remarks.

Exactly what they mean by “additional structure” is not spelled out. I’m thinking a shock collar might do it.

Some other people are calling for Biden to boycott the other two debates, although I don’t personally agree with that. If anyone quits, it ought to be Trump. But perhaps the worthless DNC is on the phone to the debate commission now to see if anything can be done to make the other two debates less ridiculous. At the very least, Trump should get his mic cut if he goes off like a lunatic again.

The second presidential debate is scheduled for October 15. “Steve Scully, who is the political editor at C-SPAN, will moderate a town-hall-style event with undecided voters from South Florida,” it says here. With the caveat that still-undecided voters must be idiots, that format ought to restrain Trump a bit. Ought to, I said. It might not.

And the vice-presidential debate will be October 7. I do intend to watch that one.

It will be four or five days before we know if that travesty changed anyone’s mind. The “overnight” polls favored Biden. But some people polled thought Trump was great. I am tempted to suggest those people need to be monitored.

There were a couple of moments that might be significant. Here is one:


One final question for you, Mr. Vice President, if Senate Republicans — we were originally talking about the Supreme Court here — if Senate Republicans, go ahead and confirm justice Barrett, there has been talk about ending the filibuster, or even packing the court, adding to the nine justices there. You call this a distraction by the president, but in fact it wasn’t brought up by the President, it was brought up by some of your Democratic colleagues in Congress. So my question to you as you have refused in the past to talk about it: Are you willing to tell the American people tonight, whether or not you will support either ending the filibuster or packing the court.

6:16 BIDEN

Whatever position I take on that, that’ll become the issue — the issue is, the American people should speak. You should go out and vote. We’re in voting now, vote and let your senators know how strongly you feel. Vote now, in fact let people know it is your senators. I’m not going to answer the question.


Why won’t you answer the question — radical left — well, listen.


Would you shut up, man.


Who is on your list?


We have ended this segment. We’re going to move on to the second segment.

Not answering the question suggests he’s leaving open the issues of the filibuster and adding justices. So that’s encouraging.

And then there was this:

1:04:23 WALLACE

Okay, you have repeatedly criticized the Vice President for not specifically calling out antifa and other left-wing groups. But are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups? And to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities, as we saw in Kenosha, as we’ve seen in Portland? Are you prepared specifically to do that?

1:04:46 TRUMP

Sure, I’m prepared to do it. I would say- I would say, almost everything I see is from the left-wing, not from the right wing-

1:05:55 WALLACE

So what do you, what do you say-

1:04:56 TRUMP

I’m willing to do anything I want to see peace.

1:04:57 WALLACE

Then do it, sir.

1:04:59 BIDEN

Say it, do it, say it.

1:05:00 TRUMP

You want to call them — What do you want to call them? Give me a name, give me —

1:05:04 WALLACE

White supremacists and, white supremacists and right-wing —

1:05:07 BIDEN

The Proud Boys.

1:05:07 TRUMP

Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem

1:05:19 BIDEN

His own FBI director said — white supremacists. Antifa is an idea not an organization. Militia —

1:05:27 TRUMP

Oh you’ve got to be kidding me

1:05:27 BIDEN

His FBI said —

1:05:28 TRUMP

Well then, you know what —

1:05:29 WALLACE

Gentlemen, we’re done, sir. We’re going to go on to the next-

What FBI Director Wray said a few days ago was that antifa is more of an ideology than an organization, but whatever. Trump’s “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” is being touted as a signal to the Proud Boys to be ready to attack. “One prominent Proud Boys supporter on Parler said Trump appeared to give permission for attacks on protesters, adding that ‘this makes me so happy,'” it says here. See also DHS draft document: White supremacists are greatest terror threat.

Trump’s part of the debate was pretty much a lie-fest from beginning to end. Biden misstated a couple of things. See the Associated Press Fact Check.

And then there was Trump’s attack on representative democracy. See David Sanger, Tuesday’s Debate Made Clear the Gravest Threat to the Election: The President Himself.

He began the debate with a declaration that balloting already underway was “a fraud and a shame” and proof of “a rigged election.”

It quickly became apparent that the president was doing more than simply trying to discredit the mail-in ballots that are being used to ensure voters are not disenfranchised by a pandemic — the same way of voting that five states have used with minimal fraud, for years.

He followed it by encouraging his supporters to “go into the polls” and “watch very carefully,” which seemed to be code words for a campaign of voter intimidation, aimed at those who brave the coronavirus risks of voting in person.

And his declaration that the Supreme Court would have to “look at the ballots” and that “we might not know for months, because these ballots are going to be all over” seemed to suggest that he will try to place the election in the hands of a court where he has been rushing to cement a conservative majority with his nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

And if he cannot win there, he has already raised the possibility of using the argument of a fraudulent election to throw the decision to the House of Representatives, where he believes he has an edge, since every state delegation gets one vote in resolving an election with no clear winner. At least for now, 26 of those delegations have a majority of Republican representatives.

Sanger also says that Tuesday’s debate may have been a signal to Russian to crank up the hacking.

Ryan Lizza at Politico has a pretty good analysis of why Trump behaved as he did: Bullying is all he’s got. He’s got no second term agenda, he has a terrible record to defend, and Joe Biden is harder to demonize than was Hillary Clinton.

We should remember also that bullying and abusive behavior are basically strategies of pro-active victimization. Bullies and abusers are compelled to dominate and terrorize because they think that’s what will happen to them if they don’t. Jonathan Allen, NBC News.:

In the end, what voters saw was a president who was deeply fearful of the result of a fair election determined on the actual positions and records of the two candidates. And yet, his desire to dominate the debate stage — to talk over both his opponent and the moderator, Chris Wallace — made it more likely that the race will be a referendum on him than a choice between him and Biden.

Charles Pierce:

If I am discovered in a state of advanced catatonia at any point in the next few days, please let it be placed on the permanent record that it was, “They’ll take out all the cows!” that did it. I hung in there as long as a human being could, but then, in the middle of another manic episode during his debate with Joe Biden, El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago started raving about the Green New Deal and the end of airplanes. He was overcome by the vision of AOC and Bernie Sanders out there on the Great Plains, cow-tipping. At this point, my higher faculties said, “Fck this noise. We’re out of here,” and got out of the business.

On a more sober note:

He wants his own private Belarus, with his own private militias at polling places, and in the streets if he loses, and he’s fixing things to get it, too.

That’s the only story from Tuesday night: the great, looming, consistent threat emerging from whatever the hell that event became. It was coming from the manic bully who is presently the President* of the United States. It was pure fascism, right down to the set of his chin that he stole from Mussolini, but it was fascism at the behest of a career failure who was sending out a call for anyone else with a sense of failure and a long gun.


More Debate Commentary, in No Particular Order

Josh Marshall, The Morning After

James Fallows, A Disgusting Night for Democracy

Dahlia Lithwick, The Most Important Thing Biden Did During Tuesday’s Debate (if you run into a subscription wall, use an incognito or private window)

David Weigel, The Trailer: What happened in Cleveland

There’s a lot more, but damn.

Andy Marlette

Well, That Was Unpleasant

I watched maybe two minutes with the sound on. Then I switched to Chopped on the Food Network and followed a live feed of the debate on my Kindle fire, no sound but with updated commentary, at the New York Times. I think the debate commission members need to consider what they’ve been doing with their lives. Nobody needs another display like that. At the very least, Trump’s mic should have been cut off.

I have a hard time believing Trump won any more voters tonight.


So There’s a Debate Tonight

I am looking forward to the debate tonight with about as much enthusiasm as I look forward to root canal. Chris Wallace of Fox News is the moderator, and while Wallace can be an honest interviewer, he also can be a tool. We’ll see which Chris Wallace shows up tonight. I will watch some of it to see how the winds are blowing, so to speak, but may not stick it out to the end. I may or may not live blog, but you’re welcome to come here and comment.

Depreciate This: Trump Is a Massive Security Risk

The story thus far: According to the New York Times, Trump is personally responsible for loans and other debts totaling $421 million. Most of this debt comes due within four years. Further, the IRS is auditing him about a $72.9 million tax refund he received a decade ago. It it is decided that refund was not legitimate, it’s possible he owes the IRS about $100 million now. So that’s, um, a lot of debt. About a half billion, right?

And then there’s this, by Timothy O’Brien at Bloomberg News:

Dan Alexander, a senior editor at Forbes, has been covering Trump’s business interests since 2016 and has a new book out about the president’s financial conflicts of interest, “White House Inc.” Alexander, in a helpful tally he shared Sunday evening, estimates Trump’s total indebtedness to be about $1.1 billion. Now that’s more like it.

Oh, dear.

I have no idea what all of Trump’s properties are worth and if he could raise some money by selling them off. I’m guessing the value of all his properties added together would be a figure in the billions. But since his resort properties have been losing millions of dollars over the past several years, one wonders who would buy them.

David Atkins:

One fact stands out far above all the others in its staggering implications: Donald Trump is personally responsible for $421 million worth of loans coming due in the next few years. Not his business. Him. Personally. He has no means of repaying them. He already refinanced his few profitable properties, and sold off most of his stocks to stay afloat. He appears short on liquidity. And we still don’t know to whom he owes the money.

Trump may be the poorest man in America, for all we know.

This fact has frightening implications for public policy and national security. Even minor debts are a frequent reason for the government to deny a security clearance, for the obvious reason that indebted and financially desperate public servants make easy marks for bribery, blackmail and potential treason.

That’s the real issue, folks. His not paying taxes is small potatoes compared to his security vulnerabilities. It’s the debt, more than the nonpayment of taxes, that is the primary concern here. Because, it turns out, we still don’t know who holds that debt. Whoever holds that debt owns Trump. By extension, the secret creditor(s) owns us. And that creditor(s) is almost certainly a foreign entity. Or several foreign entities.

Alex Ward writes at Vox that we already knew foreign countries use Trump businesses to influence U.S. foreign policy. And you know Trump wouldn’t think twice about selling out the interests of the U.S. to reduce his liquidity issues. He’s probably already sold us all out.

Trump said last year that he was a “big fan of” President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, but their relationship hit some snags over Ankara’s attacks on US allies in Syria and its unlawful imprisonment of an American pastor.

When US-Turkey ties were low, the Times recalled a few curiosities:

[In 2018,] a Turkish business group canceled a conference at Mr. Trump’s Washington hotel; six months later, when the two countries were on better terms, the rescheduled event was attended by Turkish government officials. Turkish Airlines also chose the Trump National Golf Club in suburban Virginia to host an event [in 2017].

In other words, countries like Turkey can potentially find ways to Trump’s heart by ensuring money goes into his family’s pocket in hopes of altering US foreign policy. The Trump Organization, then, gives nations an unprecedented extra leverage point to influence an American president.

Ward has other examples of connections between foreign policy and Trump’s businesses. Trump is exceedingly easy to bribe, apparently. I wonder what he got for selling out the Kurds?

There are already a lot of gee-whiz articles out there detailing the absurd deductions and depreciations Trump took to reduce his taxes that don’t pass the smell test. He’s probably underpaid by many times more than $100 million, and his kids are in on it. Don’t forget that Trump probably is already being investigated for tax fraud by the Manhattan district attorney. More of those details will be coming out over the next few days, I have no doubt. But don’t lose sight of the bigger issue. The man needs to be kept away from foriegn policy decisions.

See Greg Sargent, Stunning new revelations about Trump’s taxes also expose a hidden weakness. But see also David Frum, Trump Just Lost Control of the Game.

The NY Times Got the Tax Records

I haven’t read all this yet. See Long-Concealed Records Show Trump’s Chronic Losses and Years of Tax Avoidance.

The New York Times has obtained tax-return data extending over more than two decades for Mr. Trump and the hundreds of companies that make up his business organization, including detailed information from his first two years in office. It does not include his personal returns for 2018 or 2019. This article offers an overview of The Times’s findings; additional articles will be published in the coming weeks.

For a quickie summary, see 18 Revelations From a Trove of Trump Tax Records.

This is going to take some time to digest.

The Looming Catastrophe

So Amy Coney Barrett is the nominee, as everyone expected. I’m not even reading most of the analyses about her. The only one I did read was by Barbara McQuade, who says that Barrett is even more extreme that Antonin Scalia. That’s all I need to know.

Democrats are considering whether they should or should not even take part in the hearings, since her confirmation is already a done deal. I’ve heard arguments either way. The only question in my mind is if Democrats, assuming they win a Senate majority and the White House, will have the balls to add at least four more justices to the Court to keep it sane. I’m looking at you, Chuck Schumer.

Here’s what should worry us (Anita Kumar, Pollitico):

A year before President Donald Trump alarmed Americans with talk of disputing elections last week, his team started building a massive legal network to do just that.

Dozens of lawyers from three major law firms have been hired. Thousands of volunteer attorneys and poll watchers across the country have been recruited. Republicans are preparing pre-written legal pleadings that can be hurried to the courthouse the day after the election, as wrangling begins over close results and a crush of mail-in ballots. Attorneys from non-battleground states, including California, New York and Illinois, are being dispatched to more competitive areas and trained on local election laws.

A 20-person team of lawyers oversees the strategy, which is mainly focused on the election process in the 17 key states the Trump campaign is targeting, like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.

In total, it means the Republican Party will have thousands of people on hand to shape every element of voting — both on Election Day and in the days after.

I say again, whatever votes aren’t counted on election night might never be counted. There is going to be a huge fight in several states over every ballot. Trump’s lawyers will force the election into the courts, where Trump’s appointed judges are waiting to stop the count.

Republicans are likely to dispute election results in two main areas — the authenticity of mail-in ballots and the deadlines for mail-in ballots to be received and counted. Election officials worry those actions could penalize voters for human error, and that ballots could get thrown out because of a sometimes slow United States Postal Service.

I am not looking forward to any of this. This is the election year from hell. See also  Recipe for chaos: 2020 election threatens to snap a US already pushed to the limit by David Smith at The Guardian.

And I agree with Frank Rich that the actions of right-wing judges are likely to be enforced by Trump’s troops.

By troops I don’t mean the American military, which is unlikely to bear arms to support any Trump effort to cling to the White House in defeat, but Trump’s own troops, who have formed a rogue military of their own. His language has already given them the signal to do whatever the hell they want.

Those troops are exemplified by Michigan United for Liberty, the right-wing extremist cell that posted violent threats against state officials on highly trafficked private Facebook pages in response to pandemic health measures and then turned up with assault weapons in the Senate balcony in Lansing

as legislators (some donning bulletproof vests) gathered below. They include the likes of right-wing militia wannabes like Kyle Rittenhouse, whose killing of two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was condoned by Trump. They include the armed cohort who showed up to “provide security” in Louisville after the grand jury rendered its verdict on the Breonna Taylor murder.

The violent actors on the left that Trump rails about also exist, but in relatively tiny numbers. A June report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies on “The Escalating Terrorism Problem in the United States” finds that “right-wing extremists perpetrated two-thirds of the attacks and plots in the United States in 2019 and over 90 percent between January 1 and May 8, 2020.” They are locked and loaded to mount a violent response to a Trump defeat whether the president explicitly invites them to or not.

The Vichy Republicans in Washington, meanwhile, will be hiding under the desks. While some of them have come out in favor of a peaceful transfer of power in the wake of Trump’s threats, none of them had the guts to criticize him by name. They are all very concerned in the patented manner of Susan Collins. It was rather remarkable to watch Lindsey Graham tell the audience at Fox & Friends that he “can assure” a peaceful denouement to the election during the same week when the worthlessness of his word on late-term Supreme Court nominees was on constant display in campaign ads across the land.

Rich thinks the Dems should let the Republicans ram the Barrett nomination through the Senate before the election, because polls indicate this is likely to push some Senate contests toward the Democrats. Big wins in our upcoming election are our only hope.

The Trumpcare Scam

I wanted to take a break from writing hair-on-fire warnings of the coming stolen election. But first I have to link to Dana Milbank’s column today, because now Milbank’s hair is on fire too. This is not a drill. The Reichstag is burning.

For five years, my colleagues and I have taken pains to avoid Nazi comparisons. It is usually hyperbolic, and counterproductive, to label the right “fascists” in the way those on the right reflexively label the left “socialists.” But this is no longer a matter of name-calling.

With his repeated refusals this week to accept the peaceful transfer of power — the bedrock principle that has sustained American democracy for 228 years — President Trump has put the United States, in some ways, where Germany was in 1933. That is when Adolf Hitler, the appointed leader, used the suspicious burning of the German parliament to turn a democracy into a totalitarian state.

And so on. And Milbank is not normally a hair-on-fire kind of guy. See also David Siders and Holly Otterbein, Pollitico, ‘Everyone sees the train wreck coming’: Trump reveals his November endgame.

But now I want to back off from the apocalypse and focus on something less threatening, which is the possible meltdown of our health care system. The Affordable Care Act comes before the Supreme Court in November, after the election. With a new right-wing nutjob justice on the bench, it’s entirely possible the Court will nullify the entire law. John Roberts might rather they didn’t, but he’s not going to be able to be a swing vote any more. Anything is possible.

Trump thinks he has his ass covered by signing an executive order that allegedly protects insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions. He’s been talking about signing such an order for weeks, and yesterday he finally did it.

President Trump on Thursday signed a largely symbolic executive order aimed at protecting people with pre-existing conditions as he takes fire for a lawsuit seeking to overturn ObamaCare, which enacted those protections.

“The historic action I am taking today includes the first-ever executive order to affirm it is the official policy of the United States government to protect patients with pre-existing conditions,” Trump said during a speech in North Carolina, a key swing state. “So we’re making that official.”

Trump noted “our opponents, the Democrats, like to constantly talk about” health care and pre-existing conditions, but “now we have it affirmed, this is affirmed, signed and done.”

The White House did not immediately release the text of the order, but from Trump and other officials’ descriptions it simply states that protecting people with pre-existing conditions is the policy of the government, something that does not have the force of law on its own.

Whether Trump understands that the Affordable Care Act already protected people with pre-exising conditions, or even that he understands why “pre-existing conditions” is an issue, is not clear. And, of course, “the policy of the government” doesn’t mean beans to the private insurance companies, who are the ones who will refuse to cover people with pre-existing conditions if the ACA is dead.

The executive order must have been released. See Paul Waldman, today.

Trump has a “better” plan. Just like the better future you’ll have once you give your life savings to Trump University to learn his real estate secrets.

In the software industry they call this “vaporware” — a product announced with great fanfare that never actually exists.

I would point out that the ACA is over 900 pages long, as befits a law that sought to re-engineer an impossibly complex system. As Trump himself marveled when he first tried to repeal it, “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” Everybody knew that, except for him.

Trump’s executive order, on the other hand, is not complicated at all, nor is it a “plan.” After a few pages extolling the fantastic work his administration has done on health care, it says it will do things like lower costs and expand access. How? Don’t ask.

That’s it. That’s Trump’s health care plan, apparently. As Waldman says, it’s like releasing a plan to become a billionaire, consisting of “Step One: Become a billionaire.”

Here’s another bit of weirdness. A few days ago, the New York Times reported that Trump and the pharmaceutical industry were very close to a deal that would have lowered prescription drug prices. This would have been a major coup, had it not fallen apart at the last minute.

The breaking point, according to four people familiar with the discussions: Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, insisted the drug makers pay for $100 cash cards that would be mailed to seniors before November — “Trump Cards,” some in the industry called them.

Some of the drugmakers bridled at being party to what they feared would be seen as an 11th-hour political boost for Mr. Trump, the people familiar with the matter said.

But the “Trump cards” were nonnegotiable, as far as the White House was concerned. So the pharmaceutical industry backed out of the negotiations.

“We could not agree to the administration’s plan to issue one-time savings cards right before a presidential election,” said Priscilla VanderVeer, the vice president of public affairs at PhRMA, the industry’s largest trade group. “One-time savings cards will neither provide lasting help, nor advance the fundamental reforms necessary to help seniors better afford their medicines.”

Then this happened yesterday, Waldman says:

Trump said in his speech that in the next few weeks the government will be sending $200 prescription drug discount cards to 33 million Medicare beneficiaries. “Nobody has seen this before,” he said. “These cards are incredible.”

Given that doing so would cost $6.6 billion and the president can’t simply do that without an act of Congress, if it actually happened it would almost certainly be illegal (the White House claims they can do it through a program they’ve proposed but that does not yet exist, I kid you not). Furthermore, a one-time $200 payment does nothing to solve the enormous problem of high drug costs.

There’s no Trump health care plan, there’s no program to issue discount cards, it’s all just a scam. Trump is promising the moon to get himself re-elected.

Unfortunately, “health care” is not one of the announced topics to be covered in the upcoming presidential debate. A damn shame.

What’d I Say? A Nightmare Election Is Coming

At long last, some parts of the Democratic and media establishment appear to have noticed that the push to vote by mail could lead to disaster. Axios:

Democrats spent the early months of the coronavirus pandemic urging their base to vote absentee. But as threats of U.S. Postal Service delays, Team Trump litigation and higher ballot rejection rates become clearer, many are pivoting to promote more in-person voting as well.

Why it matters: Democrats are exponentially more likely to vote by mail than Republicans this year — and if enough mail-in ballots are lost, rejected on a technicality or undercounted, it could change the outcome of the presidential election or other key races.

Duh. Why has it taken so long for the so-called smart people to figure this out? See also Chris Hayes on MSNBC last night.

Two things happened over the past couple of days that shook up the establishment. One was Barton Gellman’s Atlantic cover story, The Election That Could Break America. The other was that Trump once again spoke the quiet part out loud. This was Trump on Tuesday:

We need nine justices. You need that. With the unsolicited millions of ballots that they’re sending, it’s a scam, it’s a hoax, everybody knows that. And the Democrats know it better than anybody else. So you’re going to need nine justices up there, I think it’s going to be very important. Because what they’re doing is a hoax, with the ballots.

In other words, Trump is counting on the Supreme Court to declare him the winner. And yesterday he was even more blatant.

When asked on Wednesday about the potential public disturbances that could follow this year’s election, Trump said: “Get rid of the ballots, you’ll have a very transfer — you’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation.”

“And the ballots are out of control,” he continued. “You know it. And you know who knows it better than anybody else? The Democrats.”

Richard Hasen, Slate:

With less than six weeks to go before Election Day, and with over 250 COVID-related election lawsuits filed across 45 states, the litigation strategy of the Trump campaign and its allies has become clear: try to block the expansion of mail-in balloting whenever possible and, in a few key states, create enough chaos in the system and legal and political uncertainty in the results that the Supreme Court, Congress, or Republican legislatures can throw the election to Trump if the outcome is at all close or in doubt. It’s a Hail Mary, but in a close enough election, we cannot count the possibility out. I’ve never been more worried about American democracy than I am right now.

Here is Barton Gellman at Atlantic:

The worst case is that he [Trump] uses his power to prevent a decisive outcome against him. If Trump sheds all restraint, and if his Republican allies play the parts he assigns them, he could obstruct the emergence of a legally unambiguous victory for Biden in the Electoral College and then in Congress. He could prevent the formation of consensus about whether there is any outcome at all. He could seize on that un­certainty to hold on to power.

Trump’s state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for postelection maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states. Ambiguities in the Constitution and logic bombs in the Electoral Count Act make it possible to extend the dispute all the way to Inauguration Day, which would bring the nation to a precipice. The Twentieth Amendment is crystal clear that the president’s term in office “shall end” at noon on January 20, but two men could show up to be sworn in. One of them would arrive with all the tools and power of the presidency already in hand.

People keep wondering what happens if Trump refuses to concede. That’s not really a problem. Concessions are just a formality, anyway; the article linked above says the first concession in a presidential election happened when Willliam Jennings Bryant conceded the 1896 presidential election to William McKinley. It’s been a tradition ever since. But refusing to concede carries no legal weight. The real issue is that Trump is going to use the courts, state Republican legislatures, and everything else at his disposal to challenge the vote and the election results if they go against him.

A proper despot would not risk the inconvenience of losing an election. He would fix his victory in advance, avoiding the need to overturn an incorrect outcome. Trump cannot do that.

But he’s not powerless to skew the proceedings—first on Election Day and then during the Interregnum. He could disrupt the vote count where it’s going badly, and if that does not work, try to bypass it altogether.

There is a lot in the Gellman piece I didn’t know. For example, for 40 years, Republicans had been somewhat bound by a consent decree that kept them from employing a long list of voter suppression activities. But that consent decree was allowed to expire in 2018, and the gloves are off.

The order had its origins in the New Jersey gubernatorial election of 1981. According to the district court’s opinion in Democratic National Committee v. Republican National Committee, the RNC allegedly tried to intimidate voters by hiring off-duty law-enforcement officers as members of a “National Ballot Security Task Force,” some of them armed and carrying two-way radios. According to the plaintiffs, they stopped and questioned voters in minority neighborhoods, blocked voters from entering the polls, forcibly restrained poll workers, challenged people’s eligibility to vote, warned of criminal charges for casting an illegal ballot, and generally did their best to frighten voters away from the polls. The power of these methods relied on well-founded fears among people of color about contact with police.

This year, with a judge no longer watching, the Republicans are recruiting 50,000 volunteers in 15 contested states to monitor polling places and challenge voters they deem suspicious-looking. Trump called in to Fox News on August 20 to tell Sean Hannity, “We’re going to have sheriffs and we’re going to have law enforcement and we’re going to have, hopefully, U.S. attorneys” to keep close watch on the polls. For the first time in decades, according to Clark, Republicans are free to combat voter fraud in “places that are run by Democrats.”

Given recent current events, I don’t even want to think of what would happen if a bunch of white yahoo cops and vigilantes tried to harass black voters at the polls.

Trump may also try to bypass the votes entirely. The “safe harbor” deadline for validating results and choosing electors is December 8. If Trump manages to use legal maneuvers to stop the counting of mail-in votes, it’s possible some states will still be uncalled by then.

We are accustomed to choosing electors by popular vote, but nothing in the Constitution says it has to be that way. Article II provides that each state shall appoint electors “in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” Since the late 19th century, every state has ceded the decision to its voters. Even so, the Supreme Court affirmed in Bush v. Gore that a state “can take back the power to appoint electors.” How and when a state might do so has not been tested for well over a century.

Trump may test this. According to sources in the Republican Party at the state and national levels, the Trump campaign is discussing contingency plans to bypass election results and appoint loyal electors in battleground states where Republicans hold the legislative majority. With a justification based on claims of rampant fraud, Trump would ask state legislators to set aside the popular vote and exercise their power to choose a slate of electors directly. The longer Trump succeeds in keeping the vote count in doubt, the more pressure legislators will feel to act before the safe-harbor deadline expires.

And then there’s the issue of getting all the mail-in votes counted. Zoe Tillman, Buzzfeed News, last week:

President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Republican Party are devoting millions of dollars to wage a state-by-state legal battle against mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic, not only suing state officials but also intervening in cases where they aren’t a party to limit how Americans can vote from home.

BuzzFeed News identified at least 11 cases where the Trump campaign has asked judges for permission to intervene to defend state and local policies that voting rights advocates argue will make it harder for people to safely vote during the pandemic. That’s in addition to more than half a dozen lawsuits the campaign has filed with the Republican National Committee contesting efforts by Democratic governors and other state and local officials to expand mail-in voting. …

…Trump and the RNC have committed $20 million to fund election-related litigation. Trump told Politico in July that the “biggest risk” to his reelection was failing to successfully fight plans that would make it easier for voters to remotely receive and return ballots.

“My biggest risk is that we don’t win lawsuits,” Trump said at the time. “We have many lawsuits going all over. And if we don’t win those lawsuits, I think— I think it puts the election at risk.”

And even if you do show up at a poll and vote in person, in some states there will still be problems. There’s a relatively new controversy over a type of voting machine called “ballot marking devices” that could give Trump an excuse to contest those ballots, too. See Donald Trump’s Favorite Voting Machines by Art Levine at Washington Monthly.

The period after the election could see violence.Gellman:

The electoral combat will not confine itself to the courtroom. Local election adjudicators can expect to be named and doxed and pilloried as agents of George Soros or antifa. Aggressive crowds of self-proclaimed ballot guardians will be spoiling to reenact the “Brooks Brothers riot” of the Bush v. Gore Florida recount, when demonstrators paid by the Bush campaign staged a violent protest that physically prevented canvassers from completing a recount in Miami-Dade County.

I’ve predicted that one already. It won’t surprise me at all if armed Trump goons break into election offices to destroy uncounted ballots. Who is going to stop them? The police? The cops will probably help destroy the ballots.

How you respond to this depends a lot on where you live. If you live in a reliably blue or red state, you may be unaffected. Please do pay attention to your state news to find out what might be happening to keep your vote from being counted.

And if you can vote in person, preferably early, please do so. If Joe Biden has a substantial lead in key states on election night, we might avoid the worst of what could happen.

Update: The Department of Justice announced today that some military ballots marked for Trump were found discarded in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. It’s not clear to me how these ballots were found, or who found them, or who has them now, or how likely it is that the military ballots for the November election would have been mailed back quite this early. Whatever. The DoJ announced it was investigating, although apparently the announcement has since been removed from the DoJ website. The Right is going ballistic, and I’m calling bullshit on the story. See also:

Update: See also Paul Waldman, The Republican war on democracy is just getting started

New York Draft Riot, 1863

Another Plea to Vote in Person if You Can

How you vote will depend a lot on which state you live in. If you live in a reliably blue state that’s voted by mail for a while now, then you can ignore this post. If you have health issues that make you particularly vulnerable to covid-19, ignore this post. You know your own precinct better than I do, and if you typically have to endure a gauntlet of horrific obstructions that you just can’t deal with, I understand if ignore this post. Everyone else, listen up:

In most states, the mail-in votes are not counted until after the polls close and the in-person votes are tallied. Trump is counting on this. Note that after New Jersey announced it would begin counting mail-in votes 10 days before the election, the Trump administration filed a motion to stop it.

Polls are telling is that a huge percentage of Democrats plan to vote by mail, while only a trickle of Republicans will do so. Indeed, Huge numbers of Republicans say mail-voting is fraudulent. This sets up the very real possibility that Trump will be in the lead on election night even if Biden has won by a landslide. This also sets up the very real possibility that vast numbers of legitimate mail-in votes will never be counted.

Trump said on Saturday, “We’re counting on the federal court system to make it so that we can actually have an evening where we know who wins, OK? Not where the votes are going to be counted a week later, two weeks later.”

There is no reason why a slower vote count is in any way illegitimate. There was a time it usually took days to find out who won the presidential election. However, Trump has created a widespread perception that there’s something fishy, even illegitimate, about results that take a few days rather than a few hours. And he’s going to use that.

Note also that states have set dates on which the results are to be certified. These dates vary and mostly fall in late November and early December, although a few are earlier. I’m not sure what happens if the votes still aren’t all counted by the certification date; that might vary by state also.

But Trump has appointed a huge number of judges to federal courts, most if not all of them right-wing ideologues and Republican loyalists. He must have a few in every state by now who are depraved enough to file injunctions to stop the mail-in vote counting.

The Washington Post reported this in August:

… the RNC and Trump campaign advisers are now mapping out their post-election strategy, including how to challenge mail ballots without postmarks, as they anticipate weeks-long legal fights in an array of states, according to people familiar with the plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.

If you vote by mail, pay attention to what your state election laws say about postmarks. You might take you ballot directly to the county election commission or hand it to a poll worker on election day, and that might be perfectly legitimate, but the envelope won’t have a postmark. That’s the sort of thing the Trumpers plan to use to have your vote tossed.

The campaign plans to have lawyers ready to mobilize in every state and expects legal battles could play out after Election Day in such states as Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan and Nevada, they said.

They’ve probably got motions for injunctions to stop vote counting prepared already. And if the injunctions to stop the vote count go the the Supreme Court — well, Trump could very well have his brand-new flaming fascist judge seated and ready for action by then. Remember Bush v. Gore? Of course the court would give the election to Trump.

The only way there won’t be a huge fight over counting votes after November 3 is if Joe Biden is ahead on election night, preferably comfortably ahead. And this means that most of us voting for Biden, especially in the battleground states, need to vote in person.

A number of knowledgable people, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have said that voting in person shouldn’t be all that risky. Wear a mask, keep your hand sanitizer handy, maintain social distance. It should be no worse than shopping for groceries.

See also: Maybe We Need to Rethink Voting by Mail and Please Vote in Person If You Can.

Photo: Matthew Brown, Hearst Connecticut Media

How Hard Will Dems, Finally, Fight?

Mike Allen, Axios:

Furious Democrats are considering total war — profound changes to two branches of government, and even adding stars to the flag — if Republicans jam through a Supreme Court nominee then lose control of the Senate.

On the table: Adding Supreme Court justices … eliminating the Senate’s 60-vote threshold to end filibusters … and statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico. “If he holds a vote in 2020, we pack the court in 2021,” Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.) tweeted.

Of course, Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.) won’t be in the House next year, since he lost the gamble of challenging Ed Markey for his Senate seat. But I don’t believe there is any chance the Democrats won’t keep the majority in the House.

In response to Mike Allen, Josh Marshall grumbled,

Set aside the absurd reference to “even adding stars to the flag” – adding new states is a prescribed and orderly process under the constitution. (If anything keeping geographical communities perpetually stateless runs against the assumptions of the constitution.) The most flagrant GOP lawlessness and rules breaking is **expected**. Democrats even suggesting responding something like in kind is “total war.”

So much commentary could be profitably assigned to this basic difference in perception and description. But it shapes the entire dialogue about American politics.

Certainly, Nancy Pelosi is talking tough.

“We have our options. We have arrows in our quiver that I’m not about to discuss right now but the fact is we have a big challenge in our country. This president has threatened to not even accept the results of the election,” Pelosi told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos. “Our main goal would be to protect the integrity of the election as we protect the people from the coronavirus.”

As I wrote yesterday, Republicans are holding most of the cards right now. It’s very unlikely that they won’t be able to confirm some right-wing wackjob to the court before the inauguration, if not before the election. However, an acrimonious fight over a nominee who is revealed to be an extremist — and we can count on the nominee being an extremist — could help Democrats take the Senate, I believe. It could tip the balance against some Republican incumbents in purple states And even the infamously squishy Ruth Marcus is reconciled to court packing.

Under ordinary circumstances I would consider such court-packing unwise. Under the circumstances of two stolen seats, I would be hard-pressed to argue against it, and against the court-expanding arms race that would unleash.

There might not be an arms race if Dems institute some voting rights reforms and make political gerrymandering illegal. Republicans would be hard-pressed to take back any part of Congress until the party undergoes some significant reforms. Like stop being nuts.

I am hoping the Trump-McConnell-Bill Barr etc. administration has finally lit a fuse under the Democrats so that they stop bringing knives to gunfights, so to speak. The current Republican Party has to be crushed if the nation is to regain anything resembling constitutional, republican government, never mind democracy, and respect among other nations.

See also Kara Voght at Mother Jones, Democrats Really Might Try to Pack the Courts.