Several times in the past few weeks, by several different people, I’ve been asked the following question in one form or another:
“What’s to stop Donald Trump simply refusing to accept the results of an election where he’s voted out?”
Several potential justifications or complex scenarios were presented for my consideration. In one, Trump would challenge in one or more states (such as California) on the grounds that illegal immigrants make up enough of the electorate to invalidate the results. Others, less plausible, involve everything from a last-minute declaration of war or a state of emergency that prohibits Congress from assembling.
Here’s what I know:
There is no possibility of triggering a Constitutional crisis by the act of challenging the results of an election; there exists a process within which even courts must abide — including the Supreme Court.
Certainly any close vote in a state can trigger a recount, and lawsuits may be filed within that jurisdiction, but at a set time the state’s legislature is required to certify results in order for its Electoral College votes to qualify. If a state does not so choose to certify, or is enjoined from doing so by its own supreme court — the only one with jurisdiction — then its votes will not count. It would be unfortunate, but it would not be a crisis; moreover, Donald Trump could not trigger this chain of events by himself. There would need to be a well-funded state organization skilled in the law and with substantiative objections to even begin such an effort, which judging by history would be unlikely to succeed.
Should Congress be unable to assemble to count the Electoral votes on the set date — and no court in the land has the authority to prevent them, not even the Supreme Court of the United States; but it’s possible that a natural disaster might intervene, or a military attack on Washington D.C. — there still exists a process to determine the succeeding President… who cannot in that case be Trump.
If Congress assembles but is unable to choose a new President for whatever reason, there is still a procedure in place by which the next President will be chosen. Again, that person cannot possibly be Trump. Should the Supreme Court prevent Congress from accepting the votes of a state (even though it doesn’t have jurisdiction), it’s still not a crisis. And so on, and so on.
Please understand: Donald Trump being willing to accept the results of an election is not required for that election to take place. He can challenge all he likes, but in no way can such a challenge create a crisis.
Finally, I’d like to point out that it’s not in Trump’s nature to do such a thing. He’s a fighter; without overly stretching the truth he can even be characterized as a slimy weasel of a dirty fighter who, when backed into a corner, will attempt any expedient to escape disaster. However, in such a case as the question suggests, merely contesting the election would be unlikely in the extreme for the simple reason that it’s the option least likely to be effective. It would be much easier for him to resign at the last moment on the condition that his successor, Mike Pence, would issue a blanket pardon.
Which, again, would not precipitate a crisis of any sort.
…well, some Internet heads might explode, and therapists would continue to prosper, but otherwise, no.