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.
Our daily update is published. States reported 1.2 million tests and 131k cases, the highest single-day total since the pandemic started. There are 62k people currently hospitalized with COVID-19. The death toll was 1,347. pic.twitter.com/WPoX9Nj7ef
— The COVID Tracking Project (@COVID19Tracking) November 11, 2020
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.