The efforts to steal the 2020 election and the Presidency may be underway or finished. Below is very much a hypothetical list of 5 ways Trump could steal the election:
- Declare himself the winner no matter what
- Call Biden before a grand jury
- Send ICE to Latinx heavy swing states
- Say mail-in ballots are mail fraud
- Ask armed militias to guard polling stations
The opposition research (oppo research) team on the Biden-Harris campaign has already war-gamed out responses to every potentiality. Still, there is a public education piece that is useful when we are talking about the foundations of Democracy. In the event that one or more of these hypotheticals were to come up, it is important for the public to know the strategic implications on the American way of life.
The most essential point to convey to the public is how powerful incumbency can be to political campaigns. All 5 of these hypothetical strategies are based on incumbency. Incumbency matters because: having already won the support of voters nation-wide, holding the office, and having access to the powers of that office, provides presidents with tremendous advantages. It is extremely hard to win an election against an incumbent president, even an unpopular one.
In considering these hypothetical strategies it is important to look at the way their context impacts their effectiveness. Each campaign usually starts with two goals: to inflict increasing levels of damage on the other campaign during periods when voters are paying attention or voting, AND to aim these actions specifically toward voters in the swing states. This political pain can potentially be targeted in certain ways, at certain times, at certain people, and at certain locations. Another way of saying it is that campaigns often divide their efforts on early-voting, mail-in voting, and Election day voting IN THE SWING STATES. These are the states that really matter under an Electoral College system. We are talking about Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. Personally, I believe Wisconsin could decide the Electoral College and the election if all votes are counted.
There is one additional important factor to consider: Election night. This is discussed below.
- Declare yourself the winner no matter what
This hypothesis considers that Trump could declare himself the winner on Election night no matter what, regardless of the actual numbers. This could include announcing that the election is over and contesting any more counting of ballots across the country. So there could be no recounts or challenges of voter suppression.
This hypothetical scenario is not simply serious, it could be treason. For a defeated president of the United States to attempt to overthrow a duly elected president-elect of the United States could be the most criminal action in American history.
We are talking about a scenario where a presidential candidate may declare themselves president of the United States without winning the presidential election. And in this nightmare of America’s first unconstitutional presidency, voters are cancelled and the Electoral College is cancelled.
Alternatively, Trump could declare that the election results are invalid on Election night and that he must remain president. This could also lead to a challenge to stop the count of any more “tainted” or “fraudulent” ballots.
2. Call Biden before a grand jury
Another option could be to call Joe Biden to testify before a grand jury under the theory that this could hurt turn-out for his voters in early-voting states. Whether as the subject of the grand jury inquiry or as a witness to another issue, the intent could be to damage him. This is similar to the impact of the Comey letter on Hillary Clinton. This may be convened by the Justice Department (DOJ) at the direction of Attorney General Bill Barr early enough to hurt early-voting, so perhaps October 3–10.
The goal would not be to convict Joe Biden, but to facilitate Trump’s victory over him in very specific states that are both early-voters and swing states. Something similar could be directed at Hunter Biden a week or three out from the election. The impact would not be the same as that on Joe Biden, but this might be done closer to Election day to sully Biden and depress turnout among his voters.
3. Send ICE to Latinx heavy swing states
Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolfe may not be a household name, but DHS controls ICE. At the direction of Trump (or on his own), Secretary Wolfe could possibly send ICE to investigate and detain Latinx Americans trying to vote on Election day in Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado. The goal could be to scare off Latinx voters by asking for their license, putting someone in a van, or looking for outstanding warrants for graffiti or protesting. If they were sent in advance of Election day (say October 31) then this could suppress and deter voting by Brown and Black voters at polling stations in those key locations.
4. To say mail-in ballots are mail fraud
Hypothetically, Trump or Attorney General Bill Barr or Postmaster General Dejoy (above) could sue all of the states that have initiated mail-in voting procedures and declare them cases of mail fraud. They could argue that until the matter is concluded, the United States Postal Service (USPS) trucks are frozen and not delivering the mailed ballots because that could make them an accomplice to the crime of mail fraud. The issue is not the law, the goal under this hypothetical option is a delay. In addition, the United States Postal Inspection Service is small, which could make going through letters and ballots slow. Alternatively, the military or federal troops could be deputized to stop trucks, review ballots, go house-to-house to verify identities in order to act on this issue.
This may be the type of issue that was foreseen by Secretary Clinton when she said, “Joe Biden should not concede under any circumstances because I think this is going to drag out.”
5. Incumbency, to ask armed militias to guard polling stations
Under this hypothetical scenario, Trump could call on white, male, civilian armed militias to “protect” Election-day polling locations or to act as volunteers. The effort could be to keep voting “safe” from “rioters” or as the saying goes: ‘communists or socialists or homosexuals.’ The goal in this strategy could be to depress Election-day voting by Black and Brown communities in swing states, particularly in Wisconsin and Michigan. In addition, this strategy could be designed to call into question the election results in swing states.
Importantly, under this hypothetical option, all that needs to happen is for one swing state to erupt in conflict during Election day voting, early voting, or mail-in voting. This could allow Trump to try and nullify the entire election.
It is also possible under this hypothesis that at some point Trump could call for the White House to be surrounded by military troops (General Milley could resign and the military could possibly follow Trump), or federal police, or white, male, civilian militias. The argument could be that this is to “protect the president” and the federal property of the “White House.”
Last point. If these hypothetical scenarios are of concern, there are many potential options. For instance, the House of Representatives could potentially address the tools of incumbency from each scenario. These include the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, US Postal Service, and US military. Potential options are based on hypotheticals upon hypotheticals. Given these assumptions, it could be an option to consider the impeachment of Attorney General Bill Barr, DHS Secretary Chad Wolf, and Postmaster General Dejoy. If incumbency largely decides presidential elections, then these actors could be both the strongest assets of incumbency and potentially the key factors in thwarting democratic institutions.
Dr. Christopher Pepin-Neff has a B.A. in Political Science, a Masters in Public Policy and a PhD in Public Policy.
Additional author details:
I am not an expert in oppo research but I volunteered in oppo research office of Senator Bob Dole’s (R-KS) presidential campaign in 1996. I also held short-term and very junior role in Senator John Warner’s Office (R-VA). I also volunteered on Senator John McCain’s (R-AZ) presidential campaign in 2000 at his request. Professionally, I worked shortly for Log Cabin Republicans, the office of Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), and then the LGBTQ service member non-profit, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. I was the first full-time lobbyist for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Then I was part of a large team that worked (un-paid) on LGBTQ issues for the Kerry 2004 presidential campaign. I served on the Board of the Equality Federation, was named President of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, DC, and founded Q Street, the LGBTQ lobbyist and government relations association of D.C. Finally, I spent six years working on openly transgender military service.