The chattering caste of Washington DC has spent much of the summer obsessed with the idea that Donald Trump will refuse to leave office if he loses in November, as Cockburn has already noted.
This perennial topic was silly enough when it was restricted to Nancy Pelosi making awkward assertions on cable television. But in the last two weeks, like QAnon, the fantasy has become substantially more elaborate, and less healthy. Numerous outlets, led by the Boston Globe, have showered attention on an endeavor calling itself the ‘Transition Integrity Project.’ The project brought together…well, not exactly big names in American politics, but certainly many people who would like to think they are big names: former Scott Walker aide Liz Mair, ex-Bush speechwriter David Frum, former DNC chair Donna Brazile, and so forth. Once assembled, these sort-of-distinguished personages played out simulations (‘games’) of four possible 2020 election outcomes: a large Biden win, a narrow Biden win, a narrow Trump win (while losing the popular vote), and an election with no real clear winner at all.
The headlines, and the Transition Integrity Project, all emphasized that the simulations showed the threat posed to democracy by the Apricot Adolf.
‘We…assess that President Trump is likely to contest the result by both legal and extra-legal means, in an attempt to hold onto power,’ the project’s final report says.
But Cockburn has a quibble. Though labeled ‘bipartisan’, the simulation seems to be entirely the work of Democrats alongside anti-Trump Republicans. Nobody actually allied with the President appears to have played a role in the simulations. Cockburn isn’t always the smartest but, saying that President Trump is ‘likely’ to contest an election result, simply because his enemies think he wants to, doesn’t strike him as very newsworthy.
Far more interesting, and totally unnoticed, is the behavior of former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Podesta also took part in the simulations, and unlike the anti-Trump Republicans, he wasn’t pretending to be someone he hates. Instead, organizers did the sensible thing: they had an anti-Trump Democrat portray an anti-Trump Democrat. Because the simulation designers apparently wanted to torment him as much as possible, Podesta had to endure an exact 2016 repeat: he played Joe Biden in a simulation where Trump loses the popular vote but wins a close but convincing victory in the Electoral College.
Buried at the bottom of a New York Times article, the paper describes what Podesta did:
‘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.
‘In that scenario, California, Oregon, and Washington then threatened to secede from the United States if Mr Trump took office as planned.’
This was so astonishing that Cockburn’s monocle nearly popped off reading it — and he doesn’t even wear one. The actual text of the final report is even more jarring. According to a summary of the game, while acting as Biden — rather than accept defeat — Podesta actively instigated secession, and then issued an ultimatum: Trump could only begin his second term if Puerto Rico and DC became states, California was cut into five pieces, and the Electoral College was abolished. When the ultimatum was refused, Podesta got the Democratic House (played by other Democrats) to declare Biden the president, and then watched to see how the military would react. If you think Cockburn exaggerates, here’s what the document says about ‘Game 3: Clear Trump win’ (a scenario in which Trump wins the Electoral College and the popular vote)
‘The Biden campaign encouraged Western states, particularly California but also Oregon and Washington and collectively known as “Cascadia” to secede from the union unless Congressional Republicans agreed to a set of structural reforms to fix our democratic system to ensure majority rule. With advice from President Obama, the Biden Campaign submitted a proposal to 1) give statehood to Washington, DC and Puerto Rico; 2) divide California into five states to more accurately represent the population in the Senate; 3) require Supreme Court Justices retire at 70; and 4) eliminate the Electoral College, to ensure the candidate who wins the popular vote…’
And it goes on,
‘One of the most consequential moves was that Team Biden on January 6 provoked a breakdown in the joint session of Congress by getting the House of Representatives to agree to award the presidency to Biden (based on the alternative pro-Biden submissions sent by pro-Biden governors.) Pence and the GOP refused to accept this, declaring instead that Trump was re-elected under the Constitution because of his Electoral College victory. This partisan division remained unresolved because neither side backed down, and January 20 arrived without a single president-elect entitled to be Commander-in-Chief after noon that day. It was unclear what the military would do in this situation.’
Now, understandably everyone wants to be gentle with Podesta after his stressful 2016 moment, but shouldn’t this merit a headline somewhere? Something like ‘Top Democrats Contemplate Civil War If Biden Loses?’ But that hasn’t happened (until now, thanks to The Spectator). Instead, we’ve just had another suffocating glut of anxious warnings that Donald Trump is planning to ignore the election.
It’s enough to leave even Cockburn nervous. When Democrats and the press warn that Trump will try and override the election result, are they simply being hysterical? Or are they, as psychologists like to say, projecting?