The Bulwark Presents
The Triad by JVL

Trump Just Lit the Fuse on the Most Dangerous Constitutional Crisis in a Century

July 20, 2020
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1. Powder Keg

In the midst of all the other news he made during his interview with Chris Wallace on Sunday, President Trump lit the fuse on what could become an extremely dangerous constitutional crisis.

Wallace asked the sitting president of the United States a simple question:

TRUMP: I’m not a good loser. I don’t like to lose. I don’t lose too often. I don’t like to lose.

WALLACE: But are you gracious?

TRUMP: You don’t know until you see. It depends. I think mail-in voting is — is going to rig the election. I really do.

WALLACE: Are you suggesting that you might not accept the results of the election?

TRUMP: No, I have to see. Look, Hillary Clinton asked me the same thing.

WALLACE: No, I asked you the same thing at the debate.

TRUMP: No, no, but — . . .

TRUMP: And, you know what, she’s the one that never accepted it.

WALLACE: I agree.

TRUMP: She never accepted her loss. And she looks like a fool.

WALLACE: But can you give a — can you give a direct answer, you will accept the election?

TRUMP: I have to see. Look, you – I have to see. No, I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no. And I didn’t last time either.

These are dangerous waters.

Trump is twice asked a direct question about the peaceful transition of power: “Will you accept the election?”

And Trump twice refuses to give the only acceptable answer: “Yes.”

If you were determined to give Trump the benefit of the doubt, you might argue something like,

Of course he’ll respect the results of the election, he just means that maybe the voting will have irregularities or will require a recount and he means he’ll keep his legal options open. All he’s really saying is, “I’m not promising to concede just because the Fake News says I lost. I’ll wait for the full and fair certifications.”

Yet even that interpretation doesn’t really hold together.

For starters, if that’s what Trump meant, he could have just, you know, said those words.

But the most likely path to a crisis isn’t a president who says, “I understand that I lost by 6 million votes, but I do not like this outcome and will not be leaving.”

No, the path to crisis is a president who says, “These results claiming I lost by 6 million votes are illegitimate. The vote was rigged and it was not a fair election. We are going to contest the results with every option available to us and prove that I, in fact, won.”

And then this president begins using his extralegal powers to lean on Republican officeholders in both the Congress and state governments.

What happens then?

Do you think that’s the moment the Republican party cuts Trump loose?

Because I do not. I rather think Republicans would continue to do what they have always done: Cling to Trump, no matter what, on the assumption that their own political futures depend the party’s base seeing them as “loyal” to Trump.

They will continue to calculate that “You can be on this hell ship or you can be in the water drowning.”

At that point the best-case scenario would be that the president of the United States—a man who has previously labeled his opponents “traitors” and complained of opposition launching a “coup”—leaves office peacefully while maintaining that he is the legitimate winner of the election. This would result in some very large number of Americans—30 million? 50 million?—believing that the election was rigged and the new president is the product of a putsch.