We hear a lot about 1876 these days in the United States. The reason is this: the 1876 presidential election resulted, not in a draw between the two candidates but in the equivalent of a stalemate in chess: a block forcing the game to be canceled… which is not – you will agree – an option in a presidential election, therefore, the outgoing president, General Grant, considered handing over power to the military. We narrowly escaped through bargaining between the two candidates.
This time, however, one of the candidates is not willing to bargain. He has even hinted at (“we’ll see…”) that he would not recognize the result of the election if he were to lose it. The director of his campaign is even clearer: “If the president loses, the election will have been rigged!”
What had happened in 1876? Election results which depended on State decisions, came up with two opposite statements: one from the Governor, and the other one from the state legislature.
However, because of the unprecedented polarization of opinion today, and also the pandemic, the conditions are in place for the 1876 scenario to be repeated in three crucial states: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. In all three states the Governor is a Democrat and the legislature is Republican. In all three States, there is a possibility, with high probability, that voters who go to the polls will give Trump a majority, but that majority will become a minority, once the votes by mail have been counted.
Why? Do I really have to draw you a picture? People who go to the voting booths – preferably without a mask – will vote Republican, while those who cautiously cast their ballots by mail will vote Democratic. But in these three states, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, the vote count can only begin on election day, and will take several days. And, in a pandemic context, could take… more than several days.
That means there could be an unspecified period during which Trump would have prevailed on the basis of the counted votes. This would be a period during which the campaign -waged non- stop, for several weeks, by “President Twitter”, saying that vote by mail is unreliable, and more than likely, fraudulent- would bear fruit: he would proclaim his victory early, claiming that “the only votes that count” have reelected him.
And this is where 1876 would be resurrected. Law professor Lawrence Douglas, in an op-ed today in The Guardian, explains how: in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan the governor would give the state vote (based on the partial count) to Joe Biden, and the state legislature would give it to Trump. Congress, which is Democratic today, would take the side of governors while the Republican-dominated Senate would take the side of the state legislatures. Stalemate!
The advice of the Supreme Court might be sought, but, as Douglas points out, the Court does not have jurisdiction in a case like this. Trump would declare a state of emergency on the grounds of the insurgency … that he is patiently fomenting by sending federal troops to put oil on the fire in Portland, or elsewhere because of local looters in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests…
This is all too Machiavellian for a moron like Trump, you might say ? For a moron like Trump, yes, but not for a Trump advisor as savvy as Steve Bannon.
September 14th update: Trump’s buddy and dirty-trickster Roger Stone stated yesterday to the press that “Trump should seize total power and jail prominent figures including Bill and Hillary Clinton and Mark Zuckerberg if he loses to Joe Biden in November.” Indeed, why bother if you’ve won or lost?