At a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, Monday night, Donald Trump repeated a claim that in the 2016 election, he lost that state only because “hundreds of buses” filled with illegal voters were sent from Massachusetts to cast ballots for Democrat Hillary Clinton. But according to Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent, Trump has a specific purpose in making the outrageous claim, which is supported by no evidence.
By claiming that his loss was the result of “illegal” voting, Trump is preparing his supporters “not to accept a loss, and thus to lose faith in the likelihood of a peaceful transfer of power,” if he loses the election to a Democrat on November 3, Sargent wrote.
In fact, Trump has long been preparing supporters for the possibility that he will attempt to remain in office if defeated, or even past the end of a second term were he to win in November, according to journalist Richard Hasen, author of the book Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust, and the Threat to American Democracy, which was published last week.
Between his inauguration on January 20, 2017, and February 4 of this year, Trump “has made at least 27 references to staying in office” beyond the point when he would be constitutionally required to step down, Hasen wrote in a recent essay for the online magazine Slate.
Among those references, immediately following his impeachment acquittal, Trump tweeted a meme depicting him staying in office “4Eva.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 5, 2020
As Hasen notes in his Slate essay, Trump frequently frames his threats to remain in office illegally as “jokes,” or as barbs designed to annoy the “fake” news media. But according to Sargent, the “subtext” to Trump’s repeated “jokes” is that the institutions that would prevent him from staging a coup and remaining as president despite an election loss, or the end of a second term, will “fail” when tested.
In the event that Trump loses the November 3 election, the claim of fraud or “illegal” voting that he made on Monday night could be one of the first arguments he offers in favor of his refusal to leave office, according to an analysis by The Washington Monthly.
If Trump were to make a claim of “fraud,” the Republican Party would likely support him, according to Washington Monthly writer Daniel Block. In fact, Block wrote, he expects that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to issue a “terse press release in which he says he ‘recognizes the president’s serious concerns'” about the election results.
Because Trump has made his statement about remaining in office past the end of his term on nearly 30 occasions, legal experts have also expressed concern that nothing could be done to stop him, if he chooses to defy the Constitution.
One expert, Georgetown University law professor and former National Security Council official Josh Geltzer, said last year that there are four “checks” that could prevent Trump from refusing to give up power: the Electoral College, Congress, state governors, and the United States Defense Department.
“I’m an optimistic guy, but I have to be less sanguine,” Geltzer said in September. “I haven’t seen any of these checks taking seriously this concern.”