What is Trump’s endgame?
Does the president really see a path to a second term?
We are more than a month into the contested aftermath of the election. We are rapidly approaching the meeting of the Electoral College on December 14 and President Trump said last month that he would leave if the Electoral College affirmed Joe Biden’s victory. So far, however, there have been few other indications that Mr. Trump has accepted the decision of the voters. The Trump Team is persisting in its legal attempts to overturn the results of the election, but does President Trump really think that he will be able to finagle a second term? If not, why is he drawing out the process?
First, no one has a clear window into the mind of Donald Trump. I’ve long been convinced that the president lives in his own bubble that is separated from reality by hangers-on who are afraid to tell him “no.” Some are afraid of being the focus of Trump’s attacks and some are afraid the Republican base will desert them in future elections. For many, it’s both.
So, it’s entirely possible that Trump may really think that he is only one court decision away from having millions of votes thrown out. And he appointed three of the justices to the Supreme Court. They owe him! He just needs to get a case in front of them.
Of course, that isn’t how the judicial system works, especially with constitutionalist justices at the Supreme Court level. But that’s how Trump’s world has worked for his entire life.
Even after the meeting of the Electoral College, Trump may see opportunities to throw a monkey wrench in the constitutional works. The votes of the electors must be delivered to “all relevant parties” by the fourth Wednesday, December 23. The next step will be for a joint session of Congress to count these votes on January 6 at 1 pm.
It is the job of the President of the Senate, Vice President Mike Pence, to open and count the elector’s votes. President Trump may be under the impression that he can prevent Pence from fulfilling his duty and determining Biden to be the winner of the Electoral College vote.
Of course, if the Republicans tried to pull off such a scheme, it would trigger another round of legal battles, if not outright literal warfare. Pence and the other Republicans have to realize this. Would they go along with Trump’s wishes? No one knows for sure but backbone has been a scarce commodity for the past four years. The farther Republicans go down this road, the harder it will be to reverse course.
Of course, there is also the possibility that Trump is well aware that he is not going to have a second term and just doesn’t want to admit it. There are many reasons that Trump might want to string people along. The most obvious of these is that his legal defense fund is a cash cow.
It has been widely reported that the fine print for donations to Trump’s legal fund states that the money can be used to retire campaign debt. What isn’t as widely known is that the various groups fighting to overturn the election have raked in more than $200 million since Election Day.
There is also speculation that Trump wants to start his own news network after he leaves the White House. The soon-to-be former president may believe that he can boost his viewership if his post-presidential legacy is one of a man who bravely fought against a stolen election rather than being remembered as a one-term loser and failed president.
Whether the rumors of an upcoming Trump News Network are true or not, maintaining his reputation as a fighter would help Trump maintain his grip on the Republican Party. He might plan a comeback attempt for himself in 2024 or he may imagine that he can anoint an heir to take his place. Perhaps he thinks Don, Jr. could be the second generation of his political dynasty.
But does anyone really think that Trump needs a reason to simply keep fighting? It’s in his DNA to be contrarian and obstinate. He will continue to draw things out and prolong the inevitable for no other reason than that he enjoys being the center of attention and making people react to his bad behavior.
Let’s be clear about one thing. There is no path to a second Trump term in 2021. The Twentieth Amendment states that Donald Trump’s term as president will “end at noon on the 20th day of January.” If, by hook or crook, Mike Pence fails to do his job and proclaim Joe Biden as the winner of the Electoral College vote, the courts will invalidate Trump’s attempt to steal the election. His Supreme Court appointees will lead the way. If Trump’s supporters take up arms in a coup d’etat, the military will defend the Constitution, not a former president.
But what Donald Trump can do is continue to deepen the divisions that threaten to tear the country apart. That’s the opposite of making America great again, but the president is very unlikely to alter his behavior for the greater good of the country, either before or after Joe Biden is inaugurated.
I’ve never been a believer in the claim that Donald Trump plays 4D chess while everyone else is playing checkers. Even if this is true, however, someone playing the wrong game is going to lose no matter how smart he is.
So, what is Trump’s endgame? I’m not sure he has one.
Photo credit: Felix Mittermeier/unsplash.com
(pictures of 4D chess sets are hard to find)