Election Day 2 and Beyond
A few words of wisdom.
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As the election goes into Day 2, there are several points to keep in mind:
-As evidenced by the high voter turnout, Americans are taking this election very seriously. They do not want irregularities to decide the election, but they also do not want the process to turn into a reality-show circus. It is important for both the president and the country that the president walk a fine line, rallying his supporters while working extra hard to maintain the dignity of the office and to respect the gravity of the moment.
-If there is evidence of fraud, the president’s campaign should bring it forward. If not, there are plenty of other issues on which to focus. Chief of these, at least in Pennsylvania, are the following questions. Should judges be in the business of re-writing election legislation on their whim, especially when the U.S. Constitution says the manner of selecting electors will be determined by the legislature? And why on earth would they dispense with the need for a verifiable signature on mail ballots? Vague accusations of fraud, unless supportable, inflame the country and distract from a strong argument. It is, more or less, the same argument that the Bush campaign used in 2000: There must be rules governing elections. Those rules must be established by legitimate authority (in this case, the legislature), and must be applied consistently, otherwise the whole process sinks into a mess of subjective judgment in which partisan or ideological self-interest will never be far from the surface. The proper slogan is not “count every vote” but “count every valid vote in accordance with law.” Anything else is an invitation to disaster, now and later.
-If Trump wins, it will be (again) by prevailing in the Electoral College while trailing in the nationally-aggregated popular vote. The White House must be prepared for what Democrats might do next. Last summer, an exercise run by the Transition Integrity Project gained attention when its team of Trump role-players—Never Trumpers Bill Kristol and Michael Steele—took a number of steps of dubious legality and morality to try to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. What gained not nearly enough attention was the response of the Biden stand-in—former Bill Clinton chief of staff and Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta—when Biden lost in the Electoral College despite leading the popular vote. He refused to concede, saying his party wouldn’t let him. He then recruited Democratic governors in Trump states to appoint alternate electors, got the Democratic House to declare him the winner, and convinced governors of California, Washington, and Oregon to threaten secession from the United States unless Republicans agreed to major structural changes that would seriously undermine federalism and checks and balances. Podesta is no outlier, but lives at the heart of the Democratic establishment. His response should not be dismissed as aberrational, but a real warning sign of what might happen under those circumstances. If results head in that direction, it will be important to start putting pressure on the Biden camp to disavow such strategies. In the meantime, serious thought should be given to a counter-strategy.
-The most difficult task for President Trump will be to demonstrate a modicum of graciousness no matter what happens. If things go his way, it will be a great temptation to rub his adversaries’ faces in the dirt. If, after exhausting legal avenues as Al Gore did, things do not go his way, he will be sorely tempted to throw the political equivalent of a temper tantrum, as his opponents did after losing in 2016. These temptations should be resisted. The country needs better than that. During the past few months, he impressed even some of his critics by embracing the campaign trail with a joy of life his opponent did not come close to matching. If his presidency ends, it would not be the worst thing in the world to leave a final impression of a president who has mastered his boisterous passions and does his duty with magnanimity.