Explaining Trump's Farfetched Plan to Steal the Election
Nothing is impossible, but overturning the results of the Presidential election is pretty damn close.
Joe Biden was declared the winner of the election five days ago, yet virtually no Republicans have acknowledged that reality. Donald Trump has neither conceded nor congratulated Biden. The soon to be ex-President is hiding in his bunker sending out insane tweets claiming in the face of all evidence (and math) that he won the election.
Trump’s unsurprising refusal to accept defeat and the slightly less unsurprising decision of Republicans to follow him like loony lemmings over the cliff of reality have sparked panic at the prospect of a stolen election.
This post-election panic feels like the 27th mile of a marathon. Wasn’t the period in our lives where a single tweet could send us down the rabbit hole of worry supposed to be over?
People’s fears are legitimate and quite understandable. The last four years have been defined by someone saying “X could never happen here” only to have “X” immediately happen right here. While Trump has consistently been too dumb and distracted to pursue his authoritarian desires, it is very worrisome that when he tried few tried to stop him. No one has gotten rich in recent years betting on the strength of American institutions.
I would never tell someone not to worry about something, but it’s important that we worry about the right things in the right amounts. Twitter in the age of Trump makes it very hard to discern the real threats knocking on the door from the hysterical Twitter threads flooding our feed.
People worried about a coup focus on two things — Trump somehow overturning the election results and state legislatures refusing to seat electors. However, when you dig into the details of those processes, it is clear that there are a number of nearly insurmountable obstacles in Trump’s path.
What is happening right now is deeply dangerous for the health of our democracy, but understanding the reality of the situation makes it easier to focus on the real problems that we have the ability to address.
Shaming people for worrying is neither productive nor healthy, so I want to explain to the best of my ability what is happening and why I am very confident that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be in the White House in January.
Overturning the Results
The first and most important fact to recognize about Biden’s victory is that it wasn’t a small one. The way the votes were counted makes the result seem much closer than it was. Biden is on track to win the popular vote by 5 million votes — the largest margin for a challenger since Franklin Roosevelt. The Electoral College also wasn’t close. Trump repeatedly refers to his 2016 victory as a “historic landslide,” because he won 306 electoral votes. Joe Biden also won 306 electoral votes.
This is not Florida in 2000. To win, Trump would need to overturn the results in multiple states. Let’s say hypothetically, Trump somehow overturned the results in Pennsylvania and Georgia — two states where Trump has falsely claimed he won. No one has articulated any way in which that could happen, but if it did — Biden would still win 270-232.
While the margin was narrow in several states, it’s important that we put those margins in perspective. In 2016, Trump won Michigan by 10,000 votes. Biden is winning by more than 140,000 votes. Trump won Pennsylvania by 44,000 votes, Biden is currently up by 53,000 votes and his lead will continue to grow as more votes are counted.
Yes, there are mandatory recounts in some states, but the size of these margins are so far beyond anything that has ever been overturned in a recount. As Biden campaign lawyer Bob Bauer pointed out in briefing the other day —there have been 31 statewide recounts this century. The average change in the vote count in those recounts was 430 votes. In Georgia, the VERY Republican Secretary of State said yesterday on CNN that he expects the hand recount occurring in that state to confirm Biden’s victory with more than 14,000 votes.
I would highly encourage everyone to watch Bauer’s legal briefing from earlier this week. I have worked with Bob in more campaigns than I can count. He is an absolute badass and you can take every word he says to the bank.
Trump has filed a number of lawsuits to stop the certification of the results. Thus far, he has lost all of them and lost them handily. His attorneys have repeatedly embarrassed themselves and been unable to provide any evidence to back up Trump’s false claims of fraud. As Aaron Blake of the Washington Post wrote:
But as scenes in courtrooms nationwide in recent days have shown, there is indeed a downside for those tasked with pursuing these claims. Repeatedly now, they have been rebuked by judges for how thin their arguments have been.
During the aforementioned briefing, Bauer called the Trump campaign’s lawsuits “theatrics.” In case you were wondering how seriously to take these shenanigans, a White House aide told NBC’s Peter Alexander that “It’s not wrong for the Biden team to call it theater.”
There is simply no mathematical, political, or plausible legal manner for the Trump campaign to change the results in the states Biden won.
The Elector Gambit
Bart Gellman, a writer for The Atlantic, sparked a wave of Democratic anxiety last month when he wrote:
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.
In the post-election period, a number of Republicans, including Donald Trump Jr., have floated this idea. It is quite frightening on paper. Republicans control the legislature in all nearly all of the battleground states.
But state laws make it clear that state legislatures do not have unilateral authority to select slates of electors. The electors are determined entirely by the result of the popular vote in that state. Theoretically, these state legislatures could try to change the law. But there is a problem with that as well — Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin all have Democratic governors who would veto such a law before the ink dried.
Some Republicans have pushed an esoteric and controversial interpretation of the Constitution based on a footnote that says that state legislatures have the discretion to appoint the electors without regard to the popular vote or the laws on the books. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro explained to Greg Sargent of the Washington Post why that interpretation was absurd:
The relevant state law assigns the role of certifying the final statewide vote count to the Secretary of State, who is a Democrat. And it assigns the role of certifying the electors chosen by that statewide vote count to the governor, who is also a Democrat. To oversimplify, the state legislature played its role in all this long ago when it passed the law designating this process as the “manner” by which the electors are chosen. The Constitution assigns to each state the authority to “appoint” its electors in a “manner” that the legislature “may direct.”
The Republican leaders of the Pennsylvania legislature have repeatedly said they have no plan to pursue this approach and admit that even if did they don’t have the authority to do so. But let’s hypothetically say Pennsylvania Republicans went down this road and appointed a slate of pro-Trump electors. They would immediately be taken to court where the odds of success are quite long. Then let’s say they somehow won in court and were able to give their 20 electoral votes to Trump despite Biden getting 50,000 more votes.
Even in this outlandish Constitutional crisis, Joe Biden would still be President come January 20th because he would still have won in excess of 270 electoral votes. Because Biden won by such a large electoral margin, Trump would need to pull off this Hail Mary in at least three states to win. The odds of doing it in one state are incredibly long. Doing it in three states is neigh on to impossible.
What to Do With Our Anxiety
I don’t blame anyone for worrying about what is happening. Despite my immense skepticism about Trump’s ability to upend the result, I will admittedly exhale the moment Biden walks into the White House. Trump’s ability to spread misinformation backed by his party is a very troubling sign for democracy in the short and the long term. He is once again proving that norms are not enough to support a democracy when one of the two parties in our two party system is willing to do anything and everything for political power. We need to turn our norms into laws and reduce the ability of the next Trump-like figure to run roughshod over our politics. The single best way to do that — and the best place to channel your anxiety — is to help the Democrats take control of the Senate by winning the two runoffs in Georgia. Take a break from doom scrolling through Twitter and go adopt Georgia at https://votesaveamerica.com/state/georgia/.
If this post didn’t make you feel better, I promise helping out in Georgia will.