President Donald Trump cannot delay the election, even if he wants to. The very fact he tweeted about that idea is concerning. But a recent attempt to “game” the various possible scenarios of the 2020 presidential election should concern Americans even more. During a strategy session, Hillary Clinton’s former campaign chairman, John Podesta, suggested that if Joe Biden loses in a similar way that Clinton did in 2016, Biden will cry foul, alleging voter suppression. He will pull the strings to keep Trump from getting inaugurated a second time, and his team will pressure Western states to secede if Trump takes office again.
This could spark a constitutional crisis and even a second civil war.
But why should Americans suspect such a thing would happen? In June, Democrats and “Never Trump” Republicans like Bill Kristol, worried about the possibility that Trump will not concede an election loss in November, gathered to work out possible scenarios. As The Boston Globe put it, the Transition Integrity Project set up “a war room of seasoned politicos and constitutional experts playing a Washington version of Dungeons and Dragons in which the future of the republic hangs in the balance.”
Both Trump and Biden have warned that the other will attempt to steal the election. Trump has warned that mail-in ballots present potential for fraud. Biden, in turn, warned, “This president is going to try to indirectly steal the election by arguing that mail-in ballots don’t work — they’re not real, they’re not fair.” He has mused about Trump having to be escorted, forcibly if need be, from the White House.
Perhaps experts engaging in a “war game” scenario involving the election would be fruitful, but this particular team had a very anti-Trump bias. They considered four scenarios, only one of which involved a Trump victory:
An unclear result on Election Day that looked increasingly like a Biden win as more ballots were counted; a clear Biden win in the popular vote and the Electoral College; an Electoral College win for Trump with Biden winning the popular vote by 5 percentage points; and a narrow Electoral College and popular vote victory for Biden.
In each case, the experts and politicos involved played various roles and worked through what would happen. “The participants took on the roles of the Trump campaign, the Biden campaign, relevant government officials, and the media —generally, Democrats played Democrats and Republicans played Republicans — and used a 10-sided die to determine whether a team succeeded in its attempted moves,” The Boston Globe reported. “The games are not meant to be predictive; rather, they are supposed to give people a sense of possible consequences in complex scenarios.”
The Globe reported on these “war game” scenarios last week, but The New York Times revealed a crucial detail on Sunday.
The Times mentioned the scenario “that doesn’t look that different from 2016: a big popular win for Joe Biden, and a narrow electoral defeat, presumably reached after weeks of counting the votes in Pennsylvania. For their war game, they cast John Podesta, who was Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, in the role of Mr. Biden. They expected him, when the votes came in, to concede, just as Mrs. Clinton had.”
“But Mr. Podesta, playing Mr. Biden, shocked the organizers by saying he felt his party wouldn’t let him concede. Alleging voter suppression, he persuaded the governors of Wisconsin and Michigan to send pro-Biden electors to the Electoral College,” the Times reported.
But it gets worse.
“In that scenario, California, Oregon, and Washington then threatened to secede from the United States if Mr. Trump took office as planned. The House named Mr. Biden president; the Senate and White House stuck with Mr. Trump,” the Times reported. “At that point in the scenario, the nation stopped looking to the media for cues, and waited to see what the military would do.”
The Boston Globe report suggests that the idea of secession came from Democrats in the “war game.”
“In the mock election, Trump sought to divide Democrats — at one point giving an interview to The Intercept, a left-leaning news outlet, saying Senator Bernie Sanders would have won if Democrats had nominated him. Meanwhile, Biden’s team sought to encourage large Western states to secede unless pro-Democracy reforms were made,” the newspaper reported.
In other words, John Podesta — Clinton’s campaign chairman in 2016 — thought it was not too far-fetched to suggest that Democrats would encourage secession and perhaps even a civil war if a Republican candidate won the presidency in November.
Does that sound familiar? It should. In 1860, Republican Abraham Lincoln won the presidency with 39.8 percent of the popular vote — a far smaller percentage than Trump’s 46.1 percent in 2016 (and Clinton’s 48.2 percent). Lincoln won the Electoral College with 180 out of 303 electoral votes, carrying 18 of 33 states. Southern Democrats refused to concede, and a few states — starting with South Carolina — seceded from the Union rather than accept Lincoln as president.
President Trump’s convincing Electoral College victory in 2016 (306 pledged electors to Clinton’s 232) is remarkably similar to Lincoln’s close victory in 1860. Trump won about 60 percent of the states and 57 percent of the electoral votes, while Lincoln won 55 percent of the states and 59 percent of the electoral votes.
Sadly, thanks to Stacey Abrams’ repeated insistence that she would have won the Georgia governor’s race were it not for “voter suppression,” Democrats have a narrative in place to reject the results of an election.
The November election is still three months away, and it is quite conceivable that Trump will make up for his large deficit in the current polls (which may or may not be accurate). The Transition Integrity Project should have also considered a scenario where Trump wins both the electoral and the popular vote — would Biden refuse to concede even then?
Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown law professor and former Defense Department official who co-organized the Transition Integrity Project, told The Boston Globe, “All of our scenarios ended in both street-level violence and political impasse.” Her team operated on the assumption that Trump would ignore the law.
Yet John Podesta revealed the horrifying truth that Joe Biden may refuse to accept the results of the election — in Podesta’s words, Biden may feel his party “wouldn’t let him concede.” If Biden ultimately loses, could he spark a civil war?
I do not believe Joe Biden would want to spark a civil war, but the candidate himself seems rather willing to go with the political winds in his party. While he campaigned as a “moderate,” he rushed to endorse far-left policy positions hardly distinguishable from those of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez after winning the primary.
If Biden’s handlers do not want him to concede the election, he may not end up conceding the election. The actions of John Podesta, who was Clinton’s campaign chair in 2016, suggested that the Democratic activist class will not accept another election loss, and they may convince Biden to go along.
I fear for our country if that happens.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.