I hate to spoil it for you, but Donald Trump is going to lose this election. The math makes abundantly clear that Joe Biden will win Pennsylvania, and that alone will put him past 270. It’s over. Joe Biden is going to win this election. Give it a few hours and he’ll be named the winner. So what next?
That’ll be up to Donald Trump. He spent the past two days meekly hiding from the public, and then once he realized he was out of time, he meekly whined in front of the cameras. Two major TV networks didn’t even bother to air his entire press conference, to give you an idea of how little of an impact Trump’s weak antics are having.
The question is what Trump will do once the major media outlets actually call the race for Joe Biden. Will we see the nearly depleted Trump who spent most of the vote counting cycle in hiding and is clearly ready to give up on everything, or will we see the panicky and confused Trump who emerged near the end?
Put another way: now that Trump is going to lose the election, he’s earmarked for prison. New York already has a widely documented grand jury in the process of criminally indicting him for financial crimes. We don’t know when that indictment will come down, but we know that it will. Trump knows it as well. Everything he does next will be in direct response to the fact that he’s earmarked for prison.
You can safely ignore the part where Trump tries to magically overturn the election through recounts that won’t work, or court filings that are already failing, or an attempt at taking over the Pennsylvania legislature that’s so unrealistic it’s almost hallucinatory in nature.
Once those fantasies subside, Trump will be left with the fact that he has three months left in office before he becomes susceptible to arrest – and the only leverage he’ll have is that he’s still temporarily the President of the United States.
Trump is a businessman and a dealmaker, albeit an absolutely inept one. He’ll try to figure out how to leverage what’s left of his presidency in exchange for some kind of reduced criminal exposure. The question is whether he’ll start behaving nicely in the hope of convincing prosecutors not to come after him once he’s out, or whether he’ll start making empty threats about blowing everything up in the hope prosecutors will panic and give him immunity in exchange for resigning early.
Either way, it’ll all be an act. Donald Trump is fading badly in the cognitive department, and he now appears to actually believe the phony conspiracy theories that he used to merely use as a weapon for winning the votes of nutjobs. But there’s no indication that Trump wants to go down in some kind of blaze. He might decide to try to make us think he wants to go down in a blaze, but as with most things Trump blatantly threatens to do, it’ll be a bluff.
Some have asked if Trump will flee the country. If he does, it’ll be a perfectly humiliating end for him; he’d be a punchline for all time. It’s also likely that if Trump flees, he’ll end up in some kind of Assange-type situation, living in a basement somewhere. We can’t see Trump wanting to take this route. We suspect he’d rather just sit in Mar-a-Lago while he tries to fend off his criminal charges, and hope he convinces the judge to give him bail while he drags out the start of his trial for a couple years.
There’s also a hypothetical scenario in which Trump resigns early so Mike Pence can pardon him and his family. The theory is that Trump’s pardon would be more likely to hold up in court if it comes from Pence, than if Trump pardons himself. But this wouldn’t do anything to shield Trump or his family from state charges, so it would be a partial solution at best.
The bottom line is that Donald Trump has no good options from here, and he’ll merely be focused on trying to keep himself out of prison. The nightmarish part is that, even with Donald Trump merely using these next three months to try to engineer a relatively soft landing for himself, hundreds of thousands more Americans will needlessly die in the ongoing pandemic.
One other factor to consider is that with control of the Senate about to come down to a pair of runoff races in Georgia in January, Mitch McConnell will now have to put on a good show in order to make the case to Georgia voters – who just voted for Joe Biden – that they should vote for the two Republican Senate candidates. McConnell’s best option could be to start pushing things like a stimulus package while pressuring Trump to stay out of it.
There are a lot of moving parts. But we’d guess that the final three lame duck months of Donald Trump’s presidency will look a lot like the first forty-five lame duck months of his presidency: him trying to take care of his own interests and not doing much else.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report