As primary season heats up in the United States, the Democrats are anxiously debating the best path to unseat Donald Trump in 2020. But the question of how to beat Trump is perhaps less urgent than the issue of whether he will accept defeat.
Trump has already questioned his loss of the 2016 popular vote with baseless accusations of voter fraud. He has also repeatedly toyed with the idea of extending his presidency beyond the eight-year limit enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, even trumpeting Jerry Falwell Jr.’s assertion that his first term be extended by two years to compensate for the Russia investigation. Perhaps most ominously, Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen warned while testifying before the House Oversight Committee in February 2019:
“Given my experiences working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses in 2020, there will never be a peaceful transition of power.”
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, recently voiced her concern that Trump will not concede if the Democratic margin of victory is too slim.
The anxiety over Trump’s potential response to 2020 is an outlier in the history of American politics. With the striking exception of 1860 and the ensuing Civil War, the record of American presidential elections is one of peaceful transfers of power. People and parties have rotated the office with minimal trouble for more than two centuries.
Jefferson versus Adams
Americans tend to look to the election of 1800 as the precedent for this achievement. After Thomas Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr, tied in the Electoral College, the contest was thrown to the House of Representatives to decide the victor.
This was the first time a president relinquished his office to a member of a rival faction. The 1800 election tested whether the republic could survive a partisan battle over the presidency and the resulting success assured Americans that the nation’s experiment in democracy could work.
But that’s not the whole story. The election of 1800 was more of a near-miss than most realize. As the House repeatedly deadlocked, the Democratic-Republicans grew wary that the Federalists would use the stalemate to stall until March 4, 1801, at which time Adams’s term would end and the presidency would then pass to the president pro tempore of the Senate, also a Federalist.
As the March 4 deadline loomed, Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas McKean prepared to defend the Democratic-Republican presidency by force. In case the Federalists tried to install one of their own, the governor drafted a proclamation ordering all officers and citizens of Pennsylvania to declare loyalty to Jefferson as president and Burr as vice-president.
McKean also readied arms for 20,000 militiamen who he would deploy to arrest any member of Congress who prevented Jefferson from taking the presidency. Virginia Gov. James Monroe likewise ordered a guard for his state’s arsenal to prevent any Federalists from plundering its weapons.
But Jefferson finally received a majority on Feb. 17 and McKean aborted his plan. Still, his preparations are revealing.
McKean’s plot demonstrates the contingency of American democracy and its reliance on the decision-making of those charged with maintaining it. Peaceful transitions of power are the result of choices made by individuals. They are not, nor have they ever been, a natural feature of the American political character.
Open hostility to democratic norms
In its first three years, the Trump administration has demonstrated open hostility to the customs that have traditionally stabilized American political institutions.
Its myriad conflicts of interest, defiance of subpoenas and court orders, refusal to release the president’s tax returns, the hiring of Trump’s children, assaults on the media and lack of media access (to name just a few) all raise alarming flags.
And then there’s Trump’s repeated suggestion that he serve more than eight years. All told, Trump looks poised to contest the 2020 results if they do not go his way.
Americans and anxious onlookers should not take a Trump concession for granted. Whether 2020 will follow the peaceful path of 1800 or the road to war of 1860 is anyone’s guess.
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Rising star Warren weathers attacks at Democratic White House debate
Surging White House hopeful Elizabeth Warren faced a barrage of attacks from fellow Democrats at the party's fourth 2020 debate Tuesday, cementing her status as a frontrunner in the race to challenge Donald Trump.
The president himself loomed large as the dozen Democratic contenders trained their fire on him, calling for his impeachment and assailing a Syria troop pullout that Joe Biden slammed as "shameful."
"The impeachment must go forward," thundered Warren, the progressive senator who is neck and neck with former vice president Biden at the head of the 2020 nomination race -- a stance loudly echoed by her fellow Democrats on stage.
‘I don’t care’: Watch Kamala Harris shut down Chris Hayes for asking a dumb question about Trump
Sen. Kamala Harris shut down MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes during a post-debate interview on Tuesday evening.
Hayes questioned Harris about her call for Twitter to follow their terms of service and kick President Donald Trump off of the platform.
"Do you think he puts people’s lives in danger when he targets them in tweets?" Hayes asked.
"Absolutely," Harris replied.
"Do you think he knows that?" Hayes asked.
"Does it matter?" Harris replied.
"The fact is he did it. The fact is that he is irresponsible, he is erratic," she explained. "He is like a 2-year-old with a machine gun."
Democrats blast Trump and demand his impeachment at CNN debate
Democratic White House hopefuls united in searing condemnation of Donald Trump during their fourth debate Tuesday, saying the president has broken the law, abused his power, and deserves to be impeached.
From the opening moments, most of the dozen candidates on stage launched fierce broadsides against Trump over the Ukrainian scandal at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.
"The impeachment must go forward," said Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is neck and neck with former vice president Joe Biden at the head of the 2020 nominations race.
"Impeachment is the way that we establish that this man will not be permitted to break the law over and over without consequences," she thundered.