REPUBLICANS SAY TRUMP JUST KIDDING ABOUT SEIZING ABSOLUTE POWER
The G.O.P. says Trump is exercising his “dry sense of humor” when he says he wants two extra years. But what if he’s serious?
The long national nightmare that is Donald Trump’s presidency will be over in January 2025 at the very latest—or so tradition would have us believe. But what if that isn’t the case? What if Trump doesn’t accept the results of the 2020 election? What if he refuses to leave?
That’s the alarm some Democrats have begun to sound amid tweets from the president in which he appeared to suggest he’s owed more time in office because he was hamstrung by the Russia probe for the first half of his term. “They have stolen two years of my (our) Presidency (Collusion Delusion) that we will never be able to get back,” Trump tweeted Sunday, after retweeting a message from Jerry Falwell Jr. in which the false prophet made a semi-joking call for “reparations” for Robert Mueller’s investigation.
The White House and Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill insisted the president was kidding. “The president has a sort of dry sense of humor,” Republican John Cornyn told The Washington Post, in what must surely have been an example of Cornyn’s own dry sense of humor. But Democrats weren’t laughing. “When you look at people who have used authoritarian practices that have brought down democracies, they have used excuses to stay in power,” Senator Ben Cardin told the Post.
“It may be in jest, but you still don’t do that in jest.” The so-called joke fueled concerns that the president would not accept the results of the upcoming 2020 election, as outlined by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in an interview with The New York Times on Saturday. “He would poison the public mind,” she said of Trump, had Democratic victories in 2018 been by a narrower margin. “He would challenge each of the races; he would say you can’t seat these people . . . So, as we go forward, we have to have the same approach.”
Trump’s allies, though, have expressed outrage at Pelosi’s suggestion, accusing Democrats of fear-mongering and refusing to accept election results themselves. Kellyanne Conway called Pelosi’s remarks “tone-deaf and ironic.” “They’re trying to suggest he’s some kind of monster,” Rudy Giuliani told the Hill. “They should stop.”
Of course, Democratic fears aren’t completely unfounded. Trump has shattered political norms at every turn, and suggested in 2016—when he was widely believed to be headed for defeat at the hands of Hillary Clinton—that he might not accept the results of that election. “I’ll keep you in suspense,” he said in response to a debate question as to whether he’d acknowledge his loss if Clinton won. Of course, Trump did win, yet he’s still contested the results, frequently complaining that supposed voter fraud kept him from winning the popular vote. Given his disregard for political norms, and the fact that his most controversial proposals often begin as insinuation, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he at least sees some truth to Falwell’s pitch.
On the other hand, the notion that Trump would seek to extend his term is likely extreme, in no small part because he appears too incompetent to go full authoritarian. Still, there’s real danger to Trump sowing doubt about the legitimacy of elections, even if he willingly returns to his life as a reality TV bozo and unsuccessful steak salesman. Trump has already lent legitimacy to myriad conspiracy theories. His repeated claims of victimhood have led to violent threats, including the attempted bombings by MAGA fanatic Cesar Sayoc last fall of dozens of Democratic figureheads. It’s easy to imagine baseless claims about the legitimacy of the 2020 election riling up his most unhinged supporters.
Moreover, though Trump is unlikely to make good on any threat to extend his presidency, it’s disconcerting to imagine what Republicans would do if he did. The G.O.P. has stood by as Trump shatters norm after norm, offering handwringing and toothless statements in response to his most outrageous conduct. Can anyone confidently say that Republicans, who have been unwilling to stand up to Trump for two years, would rally if he actually proposed tacking on two more? So far, Trump is only joking. But Pelosi and the Democrats are steeling themselves for the possibility that what began in jest could morph into another break with precedent. “We have to inoculate against that,” Pelosi said of the potential for Trump to challenge the results of a possible Democratic victory. “We have to be prepared for that.”
_________________________ TRUMP AND HIS WHOLE FAMILY WILL BE IN JAIL BY 2020 election