After three and a half years of his presidency, US President Donald Trump appears to have exhausted all surprises in the bag, except, of course, the next one.
And that next one could be the big one: Will Trump leave the White House if he loses the Presidency on November 3?
Discussions about it first started in hushed tones and offline chats. But as poll after poll predicted a bleak future for Trump, discussions about his reaction to a possible defeat were forced into the open.
The tide might yet change. As it stands today, however, things are not going well for Trump’s reelection dream – and the problems have been largely self-inflicted.
His compulsive lying and dysfunctional presidency; his catastrophic mishandling of the Coronavirus; and his race-baiting and divisive politics, among other calamities, have diminished any economic gains on his watch and left him fighting for his political life.
Read-outs from the White House log files give the impression that Trump has been having virtual meetings with Paul Biya, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and other notorious sit-tight leaders around the world on the dark art of political survival. If he pulls this off, he would top the class.
There’s nothing the Deal-Maker-In-Chief hates like losing and he hated losing long before he even became president. By some accounts, between 2009 and 2016 when he first ran for president, he tweeted the word, “loser” 170 times, often wielding it with extraordinary delight and pleasure at those who fell out or disagreed with him.
With the US presidential election only four months away, “loser”, reckoned by some as one of Trump’s most frequently used 20 words, may be coming back to haunt him. And from the auguries, it’s not if the word would come to haunt him, but how Trump would take the aftermath that has sent tongues wagging.
It’s like a slow motion of what might have happened in 2016, now playing out. Before he was eventually and surprisingly announced winner by Electoral College vote in the election against Hillary Clinton that year, Trump was already saying the election was rigged, signalling that he might not be prepared to concede defeat.
As he was slipping in the polls and thrashing about in debates, Trump told a campaign rally, days to the election in West Palm Beach, Florida, “This election will determine whether we remain a free nation or only the illusion of democracy.” He suggested that the system was, “in fact controlled by a small handful of global special interests, rigging the system. Our system is rigged.”
Even though FBI’s James Comey fatally wounded Clinton by flip-flopping over her email server problem, Trump still feared that the “system” was rigged against him by “crooked Hillary” and her gang, especially the mainstream media.
To be fair, Trump was not the first presidential candidate to express concern over the integrity of the US electoral system. Al Gore’s nasty experience with the controversial Florida vote recount in 2000 was the first real glimpse that the world’s democratic Cinderella, also harboured its own shenanigans.
But the spectre of a potential showdown and transition chaos over disputed election results were never so real as they were four years ago. Trump seemed poised for broke.
He later fell silent after he was declared winner, even though minorities in many states, especially Republican ones, continued to complain of gerrymandering and voter-registration obstacles that made – and still make – it difficult for them to vote.
In spite of Trump’s gratuitous silence, however, the ghost of the systemic rigging which he complained about came to haunt him in form of allegations that Russian hackers had, in fact, rigged the elections for him.
Now, we’re back where we started. On June 22, Trump tweeted, “Rigged 2020 election: Millions of mail-in ballots will be printed by foreign countries, and others. It will be the scandal of our times.”
Even though election experts in the US have dismissed Trump’s fears, the point is not what he fears, but what his fears could mean for the upcoming election.
In an interview in June, Daily Show’s Trevor Noah nailed it when he asked Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden, whether he thought Trump might step down and leave the White House quietly, if he loses.
I don’t think anyone ever asked any presidential candidate in the US such a question before. It’s the type of question reserved by US journalists for politicians in banana republics where the only thing that is certain is that elections deliver results written by incumbents, who out of benevolence or for window-dressing occasionally allow opposition candidates to run.
But in three and a half years of Trump, we have seen actions that make banana republics look good and dictators look benign. You could see from the look on Biden’s face as he tried to answer Noah, that the question did not come to him as a surprise, even though it made him uncomfortable.
Biden agreed that Trump might not leave, if he loses; he would not go down without a nasty fight. And then he talked about how military officers may be obliged to “escort him out of the White House with great dispatch”, if he refuses to go.
If that sounded like an adversary’s fantasy, then you missed the article last week by Timothy E. Wirth and Tom Rogers, entitled, “How Trump could lose the election and still remain US President.”
The article highlighted two major pathways by which Trump could obstruct the outcome of the election or the transition, if he loses.
One is by suppressing voter turnout with the purging of registration rolls; and two, and more dangerous, is by using his emergency powers to investigate claims of systemic rigging, especially in the swing states and keep the investigations going beyond the statutorily permitted date of December 14. In this quango, it doesn’t look like Congress or the courts can offer much redress.
Some have challenged the article as an ingenious attempt by Democratic sympathisers to paint Trump in the worst light possible. But the president’s Olympian-size ego, his mortal fear of losing, not to mention his desperation to retain power, including seeking help to do so from the Chinese as documented in John Bolton’s new memoir, all point to a man who would bring down the roof rather than go down alone.
Trump’s use of troops and horse-riders to tear-gas and disperse peaceful crowds of protesters in June, and his threat to invoke the 213-year Insurrection Act to quell unarmed marchers across the US are not mere presidential tantrums. They are ominous dress rehearsals to set the house on fire, if he loses.
In the mouth of Trump, wolf-crying is not just to call attention. It’s a double-edged sword. He uses it for defence when he’s under siege and is smelling defeat; he attacks with it to destabilise and wrong-foot his enemy.
Whatever he is up to this time, the world can almost be sure that this president won’t go away, quietly. “Loser Trump” are strange words in Trumpistan.
Vigilance and citizen firewall are key. This president might just have something bigly up his sleeves.