The new political parlor game: Asking WWTD?

Now that the presidential election is over and Joe Biden has won, a new cottage industry has sprung up that consists of speculating on the answers to the question: What Will Trump Do? I think that even he has to realize that there is no way that he will retain the office of the presidency. He has made a practice of thinking that he can bend reality to his will by denying it but first the pandemic proved him wrong and now the election has also done so. So what will he do now?

It is hard to predict because he has no identifiable political ideology or moral or ethical or philosophical or ideological core. Over his lifetime, he has been all over the map when it comes to issues. So trying to treat him as if he is a rational person acting on some set of principles is useless. What is necessary is to identify those things that he cares about and it is clear that what he only cares about is himself, and that is the most appropriate basis for speculation.

One thing for sure is that he will drag out the denial and accusations of cheating as long as he can so that he can fundraise from his followers, supposedly to fight the legal cases though the fine-print of the appeals reveals that up to 60% of the funds raised could go towards his paying off his campaign debt. Trump is a grifter to the end.

One of the things that has to be uppermost in the mind is self-preservation. He has to know that once he is out of the White House, he will be on his own in defending himself from the many civil and criminal lawsuits that are likely to be brought against him in both federal and state courts. In addition, he faces financial difficulties because of the outstanding loans against him. So his first instinct is likely to be to seek some kind of immunity for his actions and the actions of his family, particularly Ivanka who is the child he seems to care about the most.

The second is his desperate need to never be seen as a loser. So when he does lose, he moves the goal posts or changes the scoring system so that he can claim to be a winner. He tried to do that with Obamacare saying, once the repeal efforts all failed, that getting rid of the individual mandate was the main thing. Or he claims that he actually won but was denied the victory because of cheating by his opponents. This is what he is claiming now in this election but he also did it in 2016 when Hillary Clinton beat him in the popular vote.

The third is his tendency to be vindictive and lash out at others when he is angry or frustrated, blaming others when things go wrong.

The self-preservation instinct will naturally drift towards questions of immunity. He may try to pardon himself. It turns out that pardons can be issued preemptively even if the person has not been charged with a specific offense, such as when Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon over any possible crimes associated with the Watergate scandal. There were strong suspicions that Nixon selected Ford as his vice-president after Spiro Agnew resigned after Ford had secretly promised to pardon him. But even there, the scope of the pardon was restricted to a limited set of potential offenses. In Trump’s case, the range of possible offenses is so great that he may try to grant himself a universal pardon, for any and all offenses that he might have committed so far. No president has ever pardoned himself and so the ability to do so has not been tested in the courts but Trump is hardly one to obey norms and may well do so. The alternative scenario that I have seen floated is for him to make a secret deal with Mike Pence that would involve Trump resigning and Pence taking over as president and pardoning him. Somehow, I cannot see Trump resigning and putting himself at the mercy of Pence, however much a toady Pence has been. But I can see Trump trying to pardon himself, not just because he thinks he can but as a final act of thumbing his nose at the world.

He may pardon his family and others around him but given his self-centered nature, I doubt that he would do that unless he could also pardon himself. The idea of others getting off easy while he still faces punishment is something that I don’t think he can countenance even if the others are his own children. While a pardon carries with it an implicit acknowledgment of guilt, Trump will merely brush that aside saying that he is innocent and the pardon was only to escape the clutches of the deep state, the media, and everyone else who has been plotting to bring him down using illegal means.

The problem for Trump is that presidential pardon power only applies to federal charges and not to state charges. So that still leave shim open to many charges is state courts.

What bothers me is that Joe Biden may pardon Trump in order to ‘heal the nation’ or some such excuse. It is in the interests of presidents to create a tradition of not prosecuting members of previous administrations so that they themselves will not be prosecuted when they step down. However Trump is not helping his case with Biden for a future pardon by refusing to concede and making the transition so difficult.

When it was clear that Richard Nixon was going to be impeached and then convicted and forced to leave the presidency, the Republican elders in the party, including leading members of congress, went to him and told him it was all over and that he had to resign. And he did so. But the Republican leaders of today are terrified of Trump’s followers and will never do anything to earn their ire. So they will go along with the pretense that Trump has not lost as long as he continues to say it, even though it is absolutely certain that he must leave in less than three months. Their silence will feed his delusion.

The desire to not be seen as a loser may be why he is refusing to concede that he has lost, even if that means gumming up the transition process by refusing to allow the Biden transition teams access to the services that are normally offered to the incoming president. It also explains why he keeps tweeting to his supporters that he has won and even, incredibly, to suggest that he is going to hold more rallies. If he does, the size of the rallies may prove to be interesting. If they are small like the one in Tulsa, that may cause it to slowly sink in that he has lost because even his cult members are no longer turning out. But it is possible that he can draw big crowds who come out of loyalty to him, to show their support. That will unfortunately only serve to prolong his delusion.

We are seeing his vindictive nature in action as he begins firing people. But you can be sure that it will get worse as time runs out and he gets more and more desperate. Expect him to start widening the circle of those whom he accuses of lack of loyalty because they do not enthusiastically support his claims that the election was stolen from him. Sycophants like Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham have rallied to his side after being lambasted by Trump’s idiot older son but the response from others have been less heartfelt, merely saying that he has the right to mount challenges to the result. Cruz and Graham are likely trying to ingratiate themselves with Trump’s base in order to gain their support for their presidential ambitions.

Another vindictive act is that by refusing to concede he has stopped the transition process, which usually begins the day after the election is decided, from going forward. Emily Murphy, the person in the General Service Administration who has the responsibility to issue a letter authorizing government agencies to work with the new president’s team to ensure a smooth transition, has refused to do so. She has been criticized but I think that is wrong. I do not believe that she has the authority to make that call. As long as Trump refuses to concede, she is trapped. But the lack of the letter has hindered Biden’s coronavirus task force from starting its important work in combating the pandemic.

“Here we have a group and a new administration that has the right ideas, the things we should’ve been doing right along, and nothing’s happening,” said Eric Topol, head of the Scripps Research Translational Institute and a health expert in touch with Biden transition officials. “Who knows where we’re going to be by Jan. 21, but right now it doesn’t have a good look to it.”

Biden’s HHS transition team is not yet allowed to have any contact with its agencies, including with officials at the center of the pandemic response like infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci and HHS testing czar Brett Giroir. It’s also barred from accessing nonpublic information or setting up government offices, limiting the new administration’s ability to get a full picture of the public health crisis that it’ll take responsibility for in just over two months.

The separate coronavirus-specific squad has been held up as well, over concerns about how to structure it ahead of the formal start of the transition process and how willing the Trump administration will be to cooperate.

Mind you, this is on a day when the US set yet another new daily record in terms of positive tests and hospitalizations. We had more hospitalizations yesterday than even at the first peak of the outbreak back in early April.

This is, of course, of no concern to Trump, since he really does not care about the pandemic or the suffering it has caused to so many, except to be angry that it may have cost him the election.


  1. says

    The pandemic is really a problem. Even if Trump finally slinks off, it’ll be another two months of uninterrupted spread before Biden can do anything. By then, things are likely to be very bad indeed. Consider e.g. Thanksgiving and Christmas, with families gathering from all around, many of them convinced that COVID is a hoax or that masks don’t work.

    Hospitalizations are on track to reach the critical levels that had doctors and nurses breaking down in tears. Except, now it has spread out into rural areas that may not have good hospital coverage to begin with.

    Screw federal pardons. Trump should be sent to the Hague for his ongoing crimes against humanity.

  2. Holms says

    It is hard to predict because he has no identifiable political ideology or moral or ethical or philosophical or ideological core.

    Sure he does. Trump uber alles. Not that I am game to guess at what he will do, he has a habit of amazing me anew with his stupidity and self interest every month or so.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Trump is a grifter to the end.

    No doubt -- but, until all that cholesterol strikes back, we may have a long way to go to the end of his grifts.

    Meanwhile, the drier he can drain his marks, the better: they’ll have less to donate to Tom Cotton (or Kyle Chapman).

  4. Who Cares says

    particularly Ivanka who is the child he seeks to care about the most.

    seeks -> seems


    preemptively ?

    Trump will not resign so that Pence can pardon him. That would give him the loser status, a status he can only avoid by staying in the white house until he gets carried out so that he can tell his vic..followers that the only reason he is not in the white house is widespread fraud and that even the people who are supposed to protect the ‘real‘ president have been bought by this shadowy cabal to turn on him.

    And that is if he’d be sane conman/grifter wanting to keep most of his captive audience he can bilk. His narcissism prevents him from back tracking. He said he didn’t lose so reality damn well change to him not losing (and since reality doesn’t do that kind of thing it will be lies and rationalizations all the way down). That is also why (as mentioned in that Politico piece linked) just getting into contact with the Biden transition team is grounds for firing by Trump. The only reason to contact such a team is if Trump lost, Trump didn’t lose so contacting that team is ‘lying’ about the state of their current employer so they get fired for irreparably harming their employee-employer relationship (in case the firing happens to be in a state without “show workers the door at will”-laws) .

  5. leszekuk says

    I wouldn’t rule out a Trump coup attempt. He’s just replaced top Pentagon officials with cronies, and apparently he’s trying to get Republican legislatures in states he lost to declare the vote fraudulent and send Trump supporters to vote for him at the electoral college. I wouldn’t count him out quite yet. Even if his attempts to reverse the election fail, if he goes, he’ll try to take the government down with him by creating as much chaos as possible. He’s a vindictive man.

  6. mnb0 says

    “I think that even he has to realize that there is no way that he will retain the office of the presidency. ”
    Optimist. But even if you’re right, next elections the Republicans will have a candidate that’s even worse; this crisis will be repeated (and again) until the USA has an authoritarian regime like Poland and Hungary. In the meantime American pseudoprogressives will keep on clinging to their strategy of merely voting against the Rep candidate, a strategy that has failed in the past and will fail in the future.
    The “good” news is that American democracy is not at stake, because the USA aren’t a democracy anymore. The American electorate hasn’t a say anymore than the Russian electorate. Donald the Clown’s attempt at a coup may likely fail; the next time perhaps not. Or the next time.

    @1 LykeX: “it’ll be another two months of uninterrupted spread before Biden can do anything”
    Don’t worry, as soon as he can do anything about it he won’t either -- not anything substantial. JoeB is as much a product of the political system as Donald the Clown.

  7. brucegee1962 says


    The “good” news is that American democracy is not at stake, because the USA aren’t a democracy anymore. The American electorate hasn’t a say anymore than the Russian electorate.


    I am very, very fed up with these arguments that, because our process tends to turn out middle-of-the-road, corporatist candidates that look indistinguishable to those peering at them through a telescope from the political fringes, it isn’t a democracy.

    Just because you don’t like the results of the system does not mean it isn’t a democracy. The reason those are the candidates we keep getting is that those are the candidates that voters want. Even if you could set up a robust nationwide system of ranked-choice voting that everyone understood, and abolished the electoral college, I think the odds are high that we’d still be looking at Biden as the president-elect right now. Yes, many democrats don’t like him, but they were the MINORITY.

  8. file thirteen says

    WWTD? Play golf. The more people pressure him to do the things that he ought to be doing, the more golf he’ll play. It’s the perfect blend of denial of the inevitable and “fuck you, I’ll do what I want”.

  9. Ray de Silva says

    If I’ve read the regulations correctly, we won’t really have to wait that long, because the Electoral College is required to meet on December 14 to declare the winner of the election, and Murphy is perfectly entitled to take that as a definitive event. I would expect her to acknowledge Biden as the winner on December 15, giving the new administration 35 days to get their act together. Not ideal, not 70 days, but better than nothing. And besides, by that time Georgia will surely be called as well.

  10. brucegee1962 says

    I should clarify my last post. I’m not really interested in defending Biden. My point is that I get sick and tired of the blame for him being placed on “Democratic party leadership” or “big corporate donors” or “the system.”

    Put the blame where it belongs: the majority of the American populace. Because, like it or not, we ARE a Democracy.


    American pseudoprogressives will keep on clinging to their strategy of merely voting against the Rep candidate, a strategy that has failed in the past and will fail in the future.

    As opposed to what? Armed rebellion?

  11. Amal Siriwardena says


    Regarding the first para of your post I wonder whether you are being too certain too soon.
    There is still the electoral college vote to come. Normally one wouldn’t worry about this but anything is possible in the era of Trump.
    I refer to this article.

    Especially since there has been a past history of ‘faithless electors’, though never on a scale to alter the result.. From what I know if something horrendous happens the courts may be powerless to do anything.Of course there will be riots, but I don’t think DT cares a pin about this.

    I wish the US could get rid of this anachronism but I can’t see this happening.


  12. lorn says

    Please, this isn’t hard to understand. Trump is going to do what Trump always has done. He is going to make everything around here as dysfunctional and as painful as possible. Then he is going go down this road:

    ‘gee … if someone on the inside was to say … perhaps … like help out and stop obstructing it so it all worked more smoothly … As I see it it is in your interests, perhaps in the interests of all Americans, that this transition is smooth and it all goes forward with minimal damage and loss of control. Seems like you might want that.’

    ‘Okay … what is it worth to you?’

    And then he does what Idi Amin did. He agrees to a smooth and orderly transition in return for him and his living out there lives completely free of legal entanglements in outrageous luxury in an out-of-the-way location.

    He might go for a trillion dollars cash and tax-free, freedom from any prosecution state or local, and becoming a diplomatically protected citizen of Saudi Arabia or Switzerland.

    As I see it the boisterous and outrageous acts are ways of either lining the family’s pockets directly and/or doses of chaos and pain that are meant to demoralize the other side and set up further negotiations.

    Keep in mind that the reason Donny is free to ignore behavior and political norms is that he sees his behavior and respect for norms as entirely negotiable. In his mind if you want him to behave you need to pay for him to behave. In his mind it costs nothing if everything is difficult and painful for others. He cares nothing about how people suffer or die. If you want to keep the American people and system from suffering you have to give him some of what he wants.

    Until he is well away from the levers of power all you can do is concede slowly and make him really work for every point. There is the chance that having temper tantrums will tire him and you can offer less.

    Of course, once out of office it would be nice to renege on the promises. Legal president being that all of them were signed under duress and I can’t see the Biden DOJ spending a lot of effort making sure the Trumps get all they signed up for. Of course all of that is a very privileged game. Deciding how much money he can steal, how many limousines he gets to ride in, how many helicopters will be at his call are all negotiations for the very privileged. Once out he is not going to have a lot of leverage.

    There are also other dynamics. The Kurds have not forgotten his betrayal and the Trumps will be very much dependent one or more governments for protection. If his protection detail has its funding delayed because of a clerical error …

  13. says


    Don’t worry, as soon as he can do anything about it he won’t either — not anything substantial. JoeB is as much a product of the political system as Donald the Clown.

    This is just plain nonsense. Biden has already done more good by advocating mask use on twitter than Trump has done during the entire pandemic.

    Stick to criticizing Biden’s real flaws. Lack of competence or willingness to deal with the corona crisis isn’t one of them.

  14. Mano Singham says

    Amal @#13,

    While the issue you raise is theoretically possible and that Trump is likely exploring that option, I don’t think it will happen. While Trump and the most faithful of his supporters may continue to deny reality, most Americans and even many Republicans in general realize that the election is over. They will humor Trump’s delusions to provide them with cover against the angry Trump extremists but I do not think they will try to go the faithless elector route to overturn the outcome.

  15. KG says

    The American electorate hasn’t a say anymore than the Russian electorate. Donald the Clown’s attempt at a coup may likely fail -- mnb0@6

    It really should be obvious even to you that the second sentence is inconsistent with the first. There could be no question of a coup if the American electorate had not indicated -- by voting -- that it prefers Biden to Trump.

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