Notes on Trump 48 – unknown unknowns

I posted my first “Notes on Trump” when he was first inaugurated, January 20, 2017

That had this important caveat:

“Even if I had a deep understanding of US and world politics and economics I could not hope to figure out what’s happening at the moment. We are at an important turning point in multiple processes, many of them dependent on unknowable contingencies.”

One of those unknowable contigencies turned out to be covid-19. A second has been Trump catching it.

While I got many things wrong, my central analysis has held up well for nearly four years:

“Trump’s focus is on building his own party. If he had lost the primaries he looked like running as a third party (which he tried to do decades ago). If he had won the primaries but lost the election he would still have been at war with the Republican establishment, who could reasonably be accused of having treacherously helped the Democrats to win by attacking their own candidate. Having won, without any help from most of the Republican establishment he is now in a much stronger position to actually take over their party. If he doesn’t, they will find a way to get rid of him.”

“Assuming the Democrats get their act together and stop carrying on the way they are at the moment, they should be able to mount a serious campaign to win back majorities in the House and Senate at the midterm elections. But to do so they would presumably go with Trump’s trade policies, denouncing him for having not gone far enough. After all Bernie Sanders was a serious challenger to Hilary Clinton with protectionist policies (and against open borders) and Clinton actually announced opposition to the TPP [Trans Pacific Partnership] in response. Arguably he could have defeated Trump. So the result in two years could be that the US has shifted from a two party system in which both parties support globalism to a two party system in which both parties oppose globalism. If there was a Democratic majority their obstruction could be blamed for any economic decline that set in after two years.”

In a comment to that first post, on March 25, 2017 I wrote:

“66. BTW the saga doesn’t end if Democrats get a House majority in 2018. Trump would still end up with a large party in the House of Representatives and it would be very hard for Democrats to get a majority in the Senate because most of the vacancies are for seats currently held by Democrats (and in States won by Trump). By 2020 it would not be unreasonable to expect a 3 or 4 way contest for President with splits in at least one and probably both of the current two parties. If, as seems plausible, no candidate gets an absolute majority in the Electoral College the election gets thrown to the House of Representatives. Even if Trump opponents have a large majority in both the Electoral College and the House, the House votes by State delegations in electing a President (1 vote for each State decided by the majority among Reps from that State). In 2016 Trump won in 30 states. If the Electoral College is deadlocked he only needs 26 States in 2020. I see no reason to assume that opponents would defeat his candidates for a majority of seats in the House in enough of the States that he won in 2016.”

The Democrats never did recover from their heads exploding with insane conspiracy theories about the Kremlin and contemptible pleas for the intelligence agencies to mount a coup d’etat. Trump still looked set to win until covid-19.

I was wrong about the splits. The GoP just capitulated completely to Trumpists and the Democrats “united” behind a zombie candidate from the party establishment, despised by most of their base.

But there is still a way Trump could win, and it is still about the House of Representatives voting by State delegations. Here’s today’s ABC report on it:

After the vote on November 3, the states have until December 14 to settle any disputes over the election result.

That’s when the state “electors” meet to report their results. If the result is still in dispute in any state at that time, the electoral college votes for that state aren’t allocated and the rest are counted up.

The magic number of electoral college votes is 270.

If neither candidate hits that number, the matter goes to Congress for a vote in the House of Representatives, with one vote per state.

There are 50 states, so someone needs to get to 26 votes in the House to win.

This is not really a time when holding the majority of seats in the House of Representatives matters.

The sole Congressman for Alaska — who happens to be a Republican — would get to cast one vote. The entire delegation from California — which has 45 Democrats — would also have to combine for a single vote.

Currently, there are 26 states where Republicans have more members of Congress than Democrats.

In other words, if enough electoral college votes are disputed for long enough, the President is almost certain to retain power.

I don’t know whether that scenario could actually work out, or what impact the second unknowable contigency of Trump getting covid-19 will have. But if Trump survives he will certainly have achieved his goal of being leader of a large far right party in militant opposition to a corrupt and bankrupt liberal establishment that has already capitulated to his isolationist populism and has no credible policies.

Whether he is President or not, the absence of any left makes that dangerous.

5 thoughts on “Notes on Trump 48 – unknown unknowns

  1. Timeline for the process is authoritatively setout by US National Archives: (reviewed 2020-07-24).

    “By December 8, 2020—States resolve controversies
    (at least six days before the meeting of the electors)

    States must make final decisions in any controversies over the appointment of their electors at least six days before the meeting of the electors. This is so their electoral votes will be presumed valid when presented to Congress. Decisions by States’ courts are conclusive, if decided under laws enacted before Election Day.”

    Election Day is November 3.

    1. New legislation in some States possible, but not much time left.
    2, Conclusive court decisions invalidating Democrat postal votes possible. Unresolved disputes preventing certified results more plausible.
    3. If delays and unresolved disputes hold things up in some States to December 8 those States cannot certify Electors to be counted as part of the Electoral College choosing President. Presumably Supreme Court could intervene. But plausible that it would not go out of its way to actively do so. (Note: Bush v Gore resolved for Bush in Florida by Supreme Court. But if it had not done so it would still have been resolved for Bush by Florida legislature).
    4. New House of Representatives takes office 2020-01-03. If Republicans don’t have majority of representatives in at least 26 of 50 States (as they do currently) then scenario won’t play out. Otherwise it depends on whether State Courts in enough States prevent enough Electors being certified to constitute a 270 vote majority (of 538 vote total).

    There was an active campaign to persuade Electors chosen by voters on Trump slate to break their pledges. It was no more successful than the campaigns for coup d’etat. But any tactics that could work, will certainly be attempted given the propensity to attempt tactics that could not possibly work.

    5. Some tactics that could not work but have also been attempted before include objecting to the State Certified votes when read out to both Houses (requires majorities in each of both Houses to reject but has still been tried).


  2. 3 U.S. Code § 4.Vacancies in electoral college

    Each State may, by law, provide for the filling of any vacancies which may occur in its college of electors when such college meets to give its electoral vote.

    (June 25, 1948, ch. 644, 62 Stat. 673.)

    Above done in smaller number of States could also swing results more easily (as would have happened in Florida if Supreme Court had not intervened). But simply leaving the disputes unresolved could be sufficient and less provocative.


  3. The second half of this article from has lots of detail that confirms how seriously the Atlantic’s GoP “never Trumpers” are taking it. Published 2020-09-25.

    They have a well deserved reputation for hysteria, but I don’t think there is much reason to doubt that preparations are under way on both sides for a protracted conflict following election day, that DOES have potential to get very serious.

    Regardless of the outcome, and how serious it gets, it CERTAINLY sets the scene for a large far right party convinced it represents “the people” against a corrupt liberal elite that is indeed thoroughly bankrupt.

    It isn’t just fringe “conservatives” that don’t know anyone who voted Democrat and REALLY won’t believe a majority of votes that turned up after election day and swung the result to Biden were legitimate.

    The media behaviour has been so poisonously stupid that it has no influence among them.

    It is not entirely impossible that the NORTHCOM commander would have to step in to organize fresh elections. (That possibility is not mentioned).


  4. New Jersey’s Homeland Security Office released a public “Supplemental threat assessment” on September 23:

    Click to access NJOHSP-2020-2021-Supplemental-Threat-Assessment.pdf

    Towards the end it has 3 scenarios for election (pdf 11 of 13).

    1. Results certified on or near election day. “The usual” (protests etc)

    2. Disputes lasting weeks. Grim.

    3. Ends up resolved by Supreme Court. Grimmer.

    All 3 presented as security threats, domestic terrorists, foreign powers etc needing more “Homeland Security” and “Law Enforcement”.

    • Voting by mail encourages election conspiracies.
    • Domestic extremists and foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) exploit
    the election to perpetuate their ideologies.
    • Nation-state threat actors such as China, Iran, and Russia employ
    disinformation campaigns to influence the electorate.
    • Cyber actors attempt to target vulnerable/isolated election-related
    networks to disrupt electoral processes.

    “WIlDCarD” VarIaBleS*
    • An electoral college deadlock requires Congress to elect the president.
    • Deep fake technology results in confusion and fuels conspiracy theories.
    • A Supreme Court justice becomes ill, passes away, or retires, swaying
    voter turnout or delaying election results if the justice’s input is required.
    • COVID-19 infections cause polling place closures and delays in certifying
    * Wildcard variables are highly unlikely; however, they would impact
    the outcome of the analysis.

    Does not need to mention obvious background to first key assumption:

    President of United States actively promotes conspiracy theories about voting by mail.

    That is not an “assumption” but an established fact, with obvious consequences.


  5. Pingback: Notes on Trump 53 – Ascertaining the apparent President elect | C21st Left

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