Trump Is Trying to Overturn the Election, but I’m Not Panicking—Yet

Trump Is Trying to Overturn the Election, but I’m Not Panicking—Yet

Trump Is Trying to Overturn the Election, but I’m Not Panicking—Yet

All the reasons I think the Trump-GOP gambit to deny Biden’s victory will not change the fact that he will become president on January 20.


Joe Biden is going to be the next president of the United States. He will be inaugurated on January 20 and take power at noon that day. There is nothing, legally, that Trump can do to stop that.

What Trump and his feckless Republican Party might do illegally to try to overturn the results of the election and prevent Biden from taking power is a different matter. Trump has evidently intimidated the administrator of the General Services Administration into refusing to acknowledge Biden’s victory and thus prevent his team from starting the transition process. Only a smattering of Republicans have acknowledged that Biden won, and most of those who have, like George W. Bush, no longer hold any political power. Trump has already filed a raft of baseless lawsuits. His people are drumming up talk of some kind of Electoral College devilry to overthrow the popular will. And Trump fired the secretary of defense, Mike Esper, yesterday, which seems like the kind of thing one does before launching a coup d’état.

Years of watching Democrats snatch defeat from the jaws of victory gives many the sinking feeling that “it’s happening, again.” But rational thought tells us that these Trump gambits, all of them, are pointless. Biden won and his ascension to power is now inevitable, whether Trump accedes to that reality or not. As a wise man once sang: Gravity always wins.

Still, we’ve all seen Trump wriggle out of approximately a billion other defeats and scandals. He’s exposed the weakness of our democratic institutions, revealing just how useless they are in the face of his norm-breaking assaults. So it feels somehow naive to believe that his loss at the ballot box will translate into his loss of an actual job. It feels smart to consider that he might have a secret plan to retain that job, despite being voted out of it. Trump is the Michael Myers of our politics: He can’t be defeated, because the horror movie franchise makes too much money to ever end.

And yet, despite all this, I have gone to bed every night since Friday confident that President-elect Biden will become President Biden. I’ve come to this peace over the objection of my amygdala, which is the part of the brain that screams in fear and anxiety and tries to overpower rational thought. Here’s what I tell myself in order to help me sleep at night. Perhaps these are conversations others can have to achieve my level of forced serenity. (Amygdala in bold italics.)

Who won the election?

Joe Biden.

Who won the election if we only count legal votes?

Only legal votes are being counted. Joe Biden won those.

What about the possibility of a recount in swing states like Michigan or Pennsylvania?

Recounts traditionally do not change more than a thousand votes. Even if we’ve gone completely through the looking glass and this recount changes an unprecedented number of votes, like 5,000, which is completely unheard of, Biden’s margin of victory is too great to overcome. A recount would not change the result in states like Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin. If Trump wants to lose twice, that’s up to him.

What about all the lawsuits, especially the ones they keep filing in Arizona and Pennsylvania?

Trump’s election lawsuits fall, broadly, into three categories: lawsuits alleging poll watchers were too far away, lawsuits complaining about the established rules for submitting mail-in ballots, and lawsuits alleging Trump voters were denied their vote because of some kind of ballot machine malfunction.

None of these lawsuits provide evidence of massive voter fraud. None of the lawsuits provide evidence of voter fraud at all. Some of the lawsuits allege some accidents, but the remedy for those accidents is counting more votes, not fewer. Trump’s claims that his poll watchers were not allowed to watch the counting of mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania is flatly untrue, and his lawyers have had to admit in court that they were allowed in the room. They’ve been reduced to arguing that their poll watchers were not close enough, which, whatever. The remedy for that is to move them closer, not throw out tens of thousands of votes.

In fact, none of the Trump lawsuits allege anything that can be used to throw out tens of thousands of votes. Throwing out votes that have already been counted is not something that courts do. We can recount votes, this time with Trump watchers breathing down the necks of ballot counters and giving them Covid-19, but again, recounts don’t usually change the balance of votes by all that much.

The important thing to ask with each new Trump lawsuit is this: What is the remedy? If the remedy is “throw away tens of thousands of votes from people whose votes were clear in their choice and timely in their submission,” then that lawsuit is going nowhere. And if the remedy is not throwing out those entirely timely and legal votes, then the lawsuit will not change the results of the election.

Why would the Trump people be pushing these lawsuits if there was no chance for them to change the outcome?

Because Trump people are dumb? Hanlon’s Razor tells us: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

Joking aside, there might be many malicious reasons for the Trump campaign to be pushing lawsuits they know are destined to fail. Stirring up doubt in Biden’s victory is a prelude to refusing to acknowledge his authority as president. Trump, or one of his kids, or somebody “Trump-approved” is surely going to run for president in 2024, and making Trump’s rabid, white-supremacist base feel like the election was “stolen” from them has a political upside as they fight for their new “Lost Cause.”

And, there’s also the grift. Trump’s campaign is broke. They’ve literally written checks they can’t cash. Trump doesn’t like spending his own money on these things (to the extent he actually has any). These lawsuits purportedly challenging the election are a huge money-making opportunity for the Trump campaign. If you read the fine print on the new fundraising e-mails Trump’s campaign is sending out to supporters, they say that “60 percent of contributions” will go toward retiring campaign debt.

Would the Trump campaign put America through 70 days of trauma to make a buck? You better believe it. The whole Trump presidency is a guerrilla marketing campaign for the Trump brand that went too far.

But the Republican Senate is going along. This is just like impeachment. Republicans wouldn’t remove Trump then and they won’t now.

Well, it’s not up to Republicans to remove Trump from office. The Constitution does all that work on January 20. Joe Biden is the president on that day whether Republicans acknowledge it or not.

But now Bill Barr has gotten in on the game, and he is the worst of Trump’s henchman.


He’s given federal prosecutors the green light to open up investigations into possible voter fraud.



There wasn’t election fraud. Trump’s legal team has no evidence of election fraud and has no money to investigate to find such evidence, so they’re using the taxpayers’ money to look for it. But Barr’s prosecutors won’t find anything because there’s nothing there. This is going to turn out the same way it did when Barr investigated but didn’t arrest Hunter or Joe Biden.

The head of the Election Crimes Branch, Richard Pilger, resigned. That should tell us how wrong this is. But Barr is not going to succeed. It’s just another thing to remember in 70 days when Barr is out of a job. We should arrest him and charge him with abuse of power.

What if Trump refuses to leave the White House?

Biden can be president from Delaware until the White House runs out of cheeseburgers. He’ll come out of hiding eventually.

But what if Republicans never acknowledged that Biden is the president?

How’s that different from the way they treated Barack Obama?

Good point, but what about a re-vote? I’ve seen MAGA people online calling for a re-vote.

Re-voting is not a thing. There is no statutory or constitutional language that can compel a nationwide re-vote. States will certify the results of their elections in the coming weeks. And then the Electoral College will meet on December 14 in a pro-forma session to…


Damn it.

Can Republican state legislatures put forward a slate of electors who will vote for Trump even though Biden won those states?

Let’s be very clear: The states get to choose how they will determine their own electors, but that determination has to be made before the election. A state with a Republican legislature—let’s say, Pennsylvania—could have decided to choose electors based on a simple vote of the legislature. In fact, Republican legislators contemplated doing such a thing. But they didn’t. Instead they decided, like every other state, to let the popular will in their state determine the slate of electors.

They can’t change the method of picking electors after the election has taken place. Remember, when voters showed up to vote, they technically weren’t voting for “Joe Biden” or “Donald Trump” but for a slate of electors who would vote for Biden or Trump. If Pennsylvania wanted to change those rules, it would have had to tell its voters before they voted. It can’t run a bait-and-switch on an election. It can’t say that a vote for Biden’s electors was actually a vote for the Pennsylvania legislature to choose the electors. This is an election, not a Groupon.

The only legal recourse, which some Republicans are arguing for, is to determine that the voters “failed to make a choice” on which slate of electors to nominate, or that the results of that choice are somehow unclear. But the results will be clear once Pennsylvania certifies its election results (and, in this case, the governor and secretary of state, who certifies the results, are Democrats). It will be a close election, but voters made a choice and that choice will be clear upon certification.

States have until December 8 to certify the results of their elections.

But what if Pennsylvania’s Republican legislators insist that the results weren’t clear? Would the Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority allow the state’s Republican legislature to choose a Republican slate of electors, even though it’s unconstitutional?

Maybe? Conservatives on the Supreme Court act in bad faith all the time. But consider that Biden has likely won this election with 306 electoral votes. For this gambit to work, legislatures in Pennsylvania and at least two of the other states Biden won would have to submit a slate of Trump electors. The Supreme Court would have to OK this upending of the popular will three times in total. That’s incredibly unlikely and would spark almost immediate civil unrest directed right at the Supreme Court, which has no army to enforce its rulings.

Well, what’s our plan for that?

My dude, I don’t have a plan for “nothing matters anymore.” The end of democratic self-government is not a thing one has a legal plan for. That’s like asking what my plan is for closing a demonic hell mouth that opens in my backyard. Die. My plan would be to die. I’m not Keanu Reeves.

What if Trump fires FBI Director Chris Wray and CIA Director Gina Haspel and gets the “deep state” to keep him in power indefinitely?

I’m not Kiefer Sutherland either. I cannot find the mole.

What if Trump launches a full-scale coup d’état and uses the military to keep him in power?

Then we’re at war. Honestly, what do you want from me? Yes, there is a non-zero chance that Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the election leads to a civil war and, in such a conflict, Abigail Spanberger forms a Vichy government to “compromise” with Trump supporters, and I have to pilot a jet carrying Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez off of Naboo in hopes of finding friendly Jedis willing to fight for our cause.

But there is no legitimate way for Trump to stay in power now. There’s no peaceful way for Trump to stay in power. Either he’s gone on January 20 or he remains atop a military junta willing to use violence to enforce his will.

This makes you feel better?

I find it comforting that a full-scale military takeover is now the only way for Trump to stay in power. Because if there’s one thing I know about Trump, it’s that he is a coward. President Bone Spurs is not the guy to cross the Rubicon.

I look at it this way: Captain von Trapp hiked his enormous family over the Alps to get away; all I have to do is drive my people to the Thousand Islands Bridge while we all sing “Edelweiss.” Thinking much beyond that is pointless.

Well, you could get your lazy ass on the elliptical trainer in case you’re needed to fight.

Don’t start this with me again. Goodbye.

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