The US has an inordinately long time interval between the presidential election, held the day after the first Monday in November of quadrennial years, and January 20 of the following year when the new president is sworn in. This is a ridiculously long transition time, allowing for all manner of shenanigans by the outgoing president. In most parliamentary democracies, like the UK for example, the transition is made the very next day and seems to go pretty smoothly. James Robenalt argues that if Trump loses in November, he should resign immediately and have Joe Biden become president.
Why? Because he says that all the indications are that Trump will lose by a landslide
A landslide win by Biden will mean that the pandemic is not under control and probably that the economy remains in turmoil or perhaps ruins.
This makes Trump’s immediate removal from office all the more compelling because experts are warning that COVID-19 may build into another wave just as the regular flu season kicks into high gear starting in November. The health consequences could be catastrophic without a steady and clear national response.
Trump’s resignation and turning power over to the new president-elect may be the only way to keep the situation from spiraling.
Of course that is highly unlikely to happen. Even Robenalt concedes that the chances of Trump resigning are remote.
Of course, it is impossible to conceive of Donald Trump resigning, even with a widening crisis unfolding all around him. Then again, Richard Nixon was no quitter, as he acknowledged when he resigned. So who knows? Trump likes to sulk and feel sorry for himself—so he could say “to heck with you” if he is humiliated at the polls.
So given the unlikelihood, why do I even bother to even consider the possibility? It is because I was intrigued about how such a transition could occur without a constitutional amendment. Robenalt says that the deservedly much maligned former president Woodrow Wilson actually planned to resign if he lost his 1916 re-election bid to Charles Evans Hughes. At that time the transition period was even longer, until March 4, and because what came to be known as World War I was in progress in Europe and the US was being pressured to enter it. Wilson felt that a momentous decision such as that should be made by someone with a more current mandate. He actually typed out his plan, based on the line of succession then in effect.
He recognized, he wrote, that if Hughes prevailed, “I would be without such moral backing of the nation as would be necessary to steady and control our relationship with other governments.” The situation would be “fraught with the gravest dangers.”
He concluded that, in that event, he needed to appoint Hughes as his secretary of state, secure his vice president’s agreement to resign, and then resign himself. Under the rules of succession then in effect, Hughes would immediately become president.
“I would have no right to risk the peace of the nation,” Wilson wrote, “by remaining in office after I had lost my authority.”
Robenalt says that the line of succession is different now, requiring a different scenario to make Biden president.
Under the 25th Amendment, ratified and passed in 1967, a president can appoint a vice president in the event of a vacancy in the office, with the consent of the House and the Senate by simple majorities in each chamber. In this case, Trump would ask Pence to resign, appoint Biden as his VP, and then resign himself, allowing Biden to succeed to the presidency.
A final hurdle would be the Republican-controlled Senate, which has been Trump’s lapdog under Mitch McConnell. But clearly if Trump actually did his duty and resigned, it seems improbable that the Senate would stand in the way.
Of course, this is purely an academic exercise and will never happen because it assumes that Trump gives a damn about the country or indeed about anyone other than himself. Trump would be the last person to contemplate resigning because it would make him seem even more of a loser after losing the election. If Trump loses, he will use that transition time to alternatively sulk or rage against his enemies, claim that the election was rigged, try to find some way to remain in office and, when all that fails, use the transition time to enrich himself and his family as much as possible, then pardon all his family and cronies for all their crimes and try to pardon himself as well because they all surely fear all manner of investigations into his administration.
That’s how he rolls.