Understanding the “rationale” behind Donald Trump’s unusual refusal to concede

16-11-20

Dear Partners in thought,

Now that Georgia was finally won by Joe Biden (making the two January Senatorial run-off races in the state all the more exciting) and Donald Trump winning North Carolina as expected, the race should be over. 306 delegates for Biden against 232 for Trump and a 5.5 million popular vote gap between the two. It seems like a closed case even if the President has not conceded, alleging voter fraud in a few states while his groundless legal challenges are dismissed by the courts one after the other. Even if there had been a few rare cases of fraud, the result could never change in a million years, a point that many Republican officials and pundits now make, even publicly like Karl Rove, the election strategist for George W. Bush. State certification of results we know is all but assured in December.

Only a few Republican Senators congratulated Joe Biden for his victory, some supporting (now less and less strongly) the Trump fraud claims, following the President’s line that “time will tell” (I wonder what John McCain would think today of his friend Lindsey Graham though his wife Cindy gave us a likely take). A few White House hardliners like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General Bob Barr, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and trade adviser Peter Navarro are clear that Donald Trump will be present on 21st January at his own inauguration ceremony for his second term. Most respectable US media now do not pay that much attention to Trump’s fraud claims and outlandish statements that he won the “legitimate” votes but are concerned, like most observers, about the current transition of executive power in America.

Putting aside the catastrophic multi-layered impact on transition (and the incoming administration) as stated by recent White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, the problem caused by Trump dragging his feet in relinquishing power by accepting defeat, in ways that have been the norm in presidential elections throughout history, is causing harm to the American institutions and its democratic process. This has been widely reported already. Trump will eventually have to concede before January 21st and indeed “do the right thing” according to famed New York veteran sensational journalist Geraldo Rivera, an old neighbourhood and Republican friend of the President. It would now be interesting to try understanding the rationale (a strange word for it) behind the President’s unusual stance at this point and who will pay for it.

The main victim of Trump’s refusal to concede and the means behind it is squarely the American democratic system. Such a move will please the core base of Trump’s electors who like his unusual style and see himself in him, a key demographic being the non-college white male group, particularly located in rural states, this fuelling the American divide even further going forward. To be sure, most Trump voters who are not into conspiracy theories, but abide by conservative values and party affinity for their own reasons, will not be swayed long-term by Trump’s move. However, Trump’s approach could please and indeed enthuse a few million individuals, especially among those wearing the MAGA hats at political rallies, not to mention vocal hard right extremists. The other victim of the Trump shenanigans will be eventually the Republican Party itself, which is losing ground nationally (not a good omen for future presidential races, also with demographic changes) and was highjacked by Trump early on in his presidency, gradually losing its soul in the process and likely being reduced to the status of a strong minority party for a very long time, in search for a Reagan-like revolution decades from now. To be sure the GOP decline will not happen overnight, also at the congressional and especially Senate levels as we can see now. The third victim is America’s leadership and standing in the world. Looking abroad and in spite of the many congratulatory notes to Joe Biden, usually from the usual Western leaders, many autocrats the world over rejoice at the American tragicomedy pointing that the country is no beacon for anything and that democracy is indeed over-rated as all can see. As for China and Russia especially, it is hard not to think that Beijing and Moscow do not see reasons to celebrate strategically, even if for the latter a different outcome was likely tactically preferred.

In spite of his appalling style and ways, Trump is anything but stupid, even if primarily driven by instincts (often bad ones). It is unlikely that he would want to seed the grounds of a second civil war. However, the refusal to go through a smooth transition process, as long as he can and his claims hold water, is likely driven by the future – or his future. We hear that Trump simply wants to cement his hold on the Republican Party going forward. Trump is also possibly looking at what Nigel Farage has done in the UK with his new “Reform UK” (following UKIP and the Brexit Party) and is exploring what kind of popular, or more aptly, populist movement he could establish post-White House. Were a third “party” be created, such a move, that could arguably hurt the prospects of the traditional GOP, would benefit from an eager market looking for such a product, which could even have lucrative angles for Trump (he is a businessman after all), softening the blows to his ego and some say paving the way for a White House run in 2024, “Trump party” or not. One could even see a scenario where the GOP would live with a primary-based Trump nomination to preserve the “integrity” of its voting base, avoiding the start of a road to national oblivion. Even if by then, to borrow from his arsenal of campaign quips, Trump himself might be a bit “tired”. Another reason for his incredibly bold stance is that he would need a group of die-hard supporters as he goes into a likely series of lawsuits in relation to his fragile business empire and tax issues or perhaps a bargaining tool to negotiate a presidential pardon from Joe Biden in due course (that is when, in Trump style, he would have exhausted the paths for pardoning himself before January’s end). One could of course hope that one of his close and admittedly bold advisers could mention to him the many merits of a lower profile early on, playing the constitutional game and spending more time on the green at Mar-a-Lago while mentoring Ivanka for great future designs for the brand.

What we see with President Trump’s antics is sad and not surprising. Let us hope than American democracy and institutions are strong enough to put a stop to them and soon restore “decency”, a word that was largely absent from 1600 Pennsylvania avenue for four long years. However, such a step might not be immediate, listening to some enlightened views on social media that, if you excluded California, Trump indeed won the presidency.

Warmest regards,

Serge

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