Friday, August 21, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He indulged in paranoid fantasies about a crazy world in which he's not re-elected.

Speaking to a conservative lobbying group today, Trump managed to get a few boos out of the crowd when he suggested a scary outcome to the election: President Pelosi. "You know, there’s a theory that if you don’t know by the end of the year Crazy Nancy Pelosi becomes president," he said.

There is one extremely unlikely way that Nancy Pelosi could become president, at least temporarily, but Trump seems to be trying his hardest to make it a reality. Here's what would need to happen.

If Trump, as he's all but promised to do, refuses to accept the results of an election he lost to Joe Biden, he could put pressure on some Republican-led state governments to invalidate their own elections and deny Biden a majority in the electoral college. (In fairness to Republican-led state governments, this is pretty unlikely.) 

Without a clear winner in the electoral college, the presidential election would then be decided by the House, shortly after the new year had begun. Democrats are very likely to maintain control of the House, but (uniquely) this vote is cast by state delegations as a bloc, not individual representatives. Depending on the results of the elections for Congress, a tie vote is possible.

Meanwhile, the Senate would vote on the vice-presidential election—but the vice-president-elect would immediately become president on January 20th if the House were deadlocked. And this vote, too, could be thwarted if Trump prevailed on enough Republican senators to flee the Capitol, because the Constitution specifies that a two-thirds quorum of senators must be present for the vote.

Under that extremely narrow and unlikely set of circumstances, Nancy Pelosi (or whoever was Speaker of the House at the time) would become the Acting President after noon on January 20th, and would remain in office until enough Senators were present to choose either Kamala Harris or Mike Pence as the vice-president-elect.

In other words, if Trump loses the election but sows enough chaos, he could theoretically provoke a constitutional crisis so great that it would leave the United States with no elected president. 

All that having been said, Nancy Pelosi cannot become president in any scenario in which the losing candidate accepts the will of the people and peacefully supports the winner of the election, as has happened in every single one of the 58 presidential elections held so far.

Trump has absolutely refused to say he'll accept any result in which he loses.

So what?

  • In a democracy, politicians don't get to just ignore the results of elections they don't like.
  • The Constitution of the United States isn't a "theory."