On Sunday, Trump retweeted a frightening idea from prominent evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr. “After the best week ever for @realDonaldTrump — no obstruction, no collusion, NYT admits @BarackObama did spy on his campaign, & the economy is soaring,” Falwell wrote. “I now support reparations-Trump should have 2 yrs added to his 1st term as pay back for time stolen by this corrupt failed coup.”
After the best week ever for @realDonaldTrump – no obstruction, no collusion, NYT admits @BarackObama did spy on his campaign, & the economy is soaring. I now support reparations-Trump should have 2 yrs added to his 1st term as pay back for time stolen by this corrupt failed coup
— Jerry Falwell (@JerryFalwellJr) May 5, 2019
Though Trump lately has made a habit of going on largely indiscriminate retweet sprees, he seems to have genuinely adopted Falwell’s theory that the first two years of his presidency were stolen. He tweeted it in his own words later on Sunday, noting that, despite the theft, the first half of his first term still amounts to the “most successful first two years of any President in history.”
…..The Witch Hunt is over but we will never forget. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 6, 2019
The president endorsing the idea that his first term should be extended for two years has renewed concerns that he would not leave office voluntarily were he to lose in 2020. Trump has already alleged without evidence that widespread voter fraud took place during the 2016 and 2018 elections. During the former, he’s said often and without evidence that millions of votes were cast illegally to his detriment. During the latter, he’s claimed (again without evidence) that Democrats illegally tried to steal the Florida senatorial and gubernatorial elections away from the Republicans who were ultimately declared winners after recounts. The elections were close, so Trump did all he could to promote the idea they were illegitimate. It goes without saying he would do the same for his own election in 2020.
So warned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a recent interview with the New York Times. “We have to inoculate against that, we have to be prepared for that,” she said of the potential that Trump won’t leave office even if he loses, adding that she held similar fears regarding the race for control of the House of Representatives last November. “He would poison the public mind. He would challenge each of the races; he would say you can’t seat these people,” she said. “We had to win. Imagine if we hadn’t won — oh, don’t even imagine. So, as we go forward, we have to have the same approach.”
For Pelosi, that approach is to focus the party’s energy on winning in 2020 by such a large margin that Trump would be unable to contest the results. To do this, she wants to “own the center left, own the mainstream” and to “not engage in some of the other exuberances that exist in our party,” a reference to progressive ideas like the Green New Deal.
Another exuberance to which Pelosi would prefer not to engage is impeachment, an action for which several prominent Democrats have advocated in the wake of the release of the redacted Mueller report and as the White House remains determined to stonewall various congressional investigations. Though Pelosi has acknowledged the measure could be necessary in the future, she suggested to the Times it would be playing into Trump’s hands, as the Republican-controlled Senate would never vote to remove the president from office.
Regardless of where lawmakers may fall on the impeachment issue, few would argue Democrats don’t need a plan for how to respond should Trump refuse to leave office. Though Pelosi thinks the Democratic nominee can win in a landslide by appealing to the middle — a theory that is very questionable — this doesn’t mean the president wouldn’t still challenge the results anyway.
Barring the pee tape dropping sometime in the next 16 months, a landslide is probably unlikely. A recent CNN poll pitting prospective Democratic candidates against Trump revealed that most of his challengers are only within a few percentage points of the president. Making matters worse, Trump seems poised to once again accept help from Russia. During a lengthy Friday afternoon call with Vladimir Putin, Trump didn’t even raise the issue of election interference, and he’s demonstrated he understands the Mueller report to have cleared the campaign’s willingness to accept help from Russia in 2016 as legal.
In other words, 2020 will probably be close, which means the president will probably find some way to try to stay in office should he lose, whether it be through alleging a Democratic conspiracy to fix the results, or some other extra-constitutional means. As former Trump attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen, who knows how the president’s mind works better than probably anyone, told Congress in February, “I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, that there will never be a peaceful transition of power.”
On Monday, Cohen began a three-year prison term for federal election crimes both he and the Southern District of New York say were committed at the direction of the president.