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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 10/4/20

Trump Needs Accomplices at Every Level of Government to Pull Off a Coup

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From Truthout

President Trump taken to military hospital for COVID-19
President Trump taken to military hospital for COVID-19
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For months, Donald Trump has been mounting a preemptive strike against the democratic election process. He signals his intent to manipulate indeed, steal the presidential election in the event that Joe Biden wins. With no evidence to support him, Trump repeats the mantra "voter fraud" to lay the groundwork for political, legal and extra-legal challenges to a Biden victory. In an unprecedented move, Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power as he orders right-wing militias armed with assault weapons to "stand back and stand by."

Now that Donald Trump has tested positive for COVID-19, all bets are off. After months of recklessly discouraging social distancing and mask wearing, the chickens have come home to roost. Trump has tried mightily to change the subject away from the coronavirus and his criminal responsibility for more than 207,000 deaths and over 7 million people in the United States who have the virus. But with Trump's infection, that strategy is now dead.

The timeline of Trump's positive diagnosis is unclear. Trump remains hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the White House has issued conflicting and contradictory reports about his condition. Doctors say we may not know the course of Trump's illness for a week to 10 days.

If Trump's symptoms worsen, he could temporarily hand over the presidential reins to Vice President Mike Pence under the 25th Amendment. In the event that Trump becomes very ill and refuses to put Pence in charge, the 25th Amendment allows Pence and a majority of the cabinet, or a body Congress lawfully designates, to declare Trump unable to discharge the duties of the presidency. Pence would then take over. If Trump tells Congress that "no inability exists," two-thirds of the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives could decide that Trump is still unable to discharge his presidential duties, and Pence would remain acting president until after the election. He could become the GOP nominee or the Republican National Committee could select a new nominee. Ballots already cast for Trump in early voting would be transferred to his replacement. Each state would decide how to proceed as there is probably insufficient time to print ballots with the name of a new nominee. If Trump dies, Pence would become acting president and if he is unable to serve, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is next in line.

The election will not be decided on November 3. Since there are an unprecedented number of people voting by mail-in ballots due to the pandemic, it could take weeks to finish resolving challenged ballots and counting the votes. Nevertheless, Trump, mindful that mail-in ballots generally tilt toward Democratic candidates, has insisted that the winner be declared on November 3.

Trump could order postal inspectors to impound mail-in ballots by claiming forgery or foreign fraud, so they might not be counted.

The Trump campaign is mobilizing "an army for Trump," calling on "all able-bodied men and women to stop the election from being stolen by Democrats." Although it's unclear just what this army is being recruited to do, a coalition of progressive organizations has mobilized more than 6,000 "election defenders."

Are we doomed to suffer a coup d'e'tat and four more years of Trump's bullying, racism, misogyny, cruelty, lying and xenophobia? Or can his assault on the very essence of democracy be stopped?

A Looming Constitutional Crisis

As Biden has been leading in the polls, Trump confirmed at a September 25 rally in Virginia that if he loses the election, "We're not going to stand for it." Reiterating his false claim of voter fraud from mail-in ballots, Trump told the crowd, "We're not going to lose this except if they cheat."

According to the Transition Integrity Project (TIP), "Trump is likely to contest the result by both legal and extra-legal means, in an attempt to hold onto power." The bipartisan group of experts, which conducted a series of election crisis scenario exercises, warns, "The potential for violent conflict is high, particularly since Trump encourages his supporters to take up arms."

TIP's report says "there is a chance" that "Trump will attempt to convince legislatures and/or governors to take actions including illegal actions to defy the popular vote."

The election is actually multiple elections. Each state controls its own election process. Harvard professor Daniel Carpenter described a scenario in which Biden "wins a plausible victory and Republicans move to undermine it." He posed a hypothetical situation in Arizona or North Carolina where Biden wins a state majority but the state legislature decides to give their delegates to Trump.

Barton Gellman reported in The Atlantic that "the Trump campaign is discussing contingency plans to bypass election results and appoint loyal electors in battleground states where Republicans hold the legislative majority."

If states refuse to certify or report slates of electors to the Electoral College, that will result in "underpopulation" and force the election into the House of Representatives, according to Carpenter. "[I]f the Electoral College is underpopulated and the courts don't intervene, or maybe even if they do, the election is thrown to the House," he said. The states would then vote by delegations. The Democrats have a majority of members, but the Republicans have a majority of delegations because each state has equal voting power and there are more red states than blue states.

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Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and a member of the National Advisory Board of Veterans for Peace. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. See  (more...)

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