Gaming November

Bipartisan consensus is hard to come by these days. But on at least one point there is unanimity: The 2020 Presidential election is almost sure to be fraught with accusations of vote rigging and fraud; and that the orderly succession of power on which democracy depends is more imperiled than any time since the 1876 Hayes-Tilden election, which threw the country into a constitutional crisis from which it barely emerged intact.

To the extent that thinking ahead and working out safeguards minimize the chances of a chaotic and divisive electoral aftermath, the discussion being carried on now about “what could happen” is appropriate.

Some of the discussion is indeed about that. The efforts of election officials and the postal service, for example, to prepare the mechanisms for an historic switch to mail-in balloting in a pandemic year, are right and necessary. The recent congressional hearings on the post office were politicized — and were more about Democrats vilifying and delegitimizing the postmaster, a Trump appointee, than a fair inquiry into the mail-in situation. But the concept behind holding the hearing in the first place was reasonable.

Recent primary votes in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have been harbingers of dysfunction. Officialdom must be given the funding and the tools to ensure, as much as possible, a voting process whose integrity the public can have confidence in.

Unfortunately, much of the discussion is not so benign. It is not about safeguarding democracy, but about “gaming” the November outcome. That is, depicting hypothetical nightmare scenarios — including a defeated President Trump refusing to leave office, rioting in the streets, a military coup — in order to preempt any attempt by Republicans to challenge voting results, no matter how justified legally.

That is not political polling. That is incitement to violence.

The Transition Integrity Project (TIP) is one the most egregious examples of this phenomenon.

In an August 3 report bearing the civic-minded title “Preventing a Disrupted Presidential Election and Transition,” the TIP executive summary states that the results of “all four table-top exercises were alarming. We assess with a high degree of likelihood that November’s elections will be marked by a chaotic legal and political landscape.”

Furthermore, TIP found that in “every scenario except a [Joe] Biden landslide, our simulation ended catastrophically.”

“We anticipate lawsuits, divergent media narratives, attempts to stop the counting of ballots, and protests drawing people from both sides,” TIP writes. “The potential for violent conflict is high, particularly since Trump encourages his supporters to take up arms.”

That the folks who took up arms in the rioting and looting this summer were not Trump supporters seems to have eluded them.

In these war games, the envisaged disruption seemed to come from one side only. The scenarios presupposed that Mr. Trump will resort to deceitful and unconstitutional means to cling to power and thwart the will of the people. The message is obvious: If you want a peaceful transition, vote for Biden.

Who is TIP? They claim to be “a bipartisan group of over 100 current and former senior government and campaign leaders and other experts.” But calling themselves “bipartisan” is a sly dodge. Most are Democrats, liberals and leftists; the other party was represented by anti-Trump former Republicans. Among them was Michael Steele, a former Republican National Committee chairman who endorsed Biden for president, and David Frum, who said he voted for Hillary Clinton and during impeachment said the president was “very, very guilty.” Money for TIP was graciously provided by George Soros.

Somehow, Republicans supportive of Trump weren’t included in the fortunate 100. One can only wonder why.

And after Biden is sworn in, TIP recommends a truth and reconciliation commission, as have been held in other countries, like post-apartheid South Africa. Ostensibly, to heal the wounds.

Hillary Clinton recently offered her wise counsel that Joe Biden should not concede the election “under any circumstances.”

In January, during the impeachment trial, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) made what was arguably an even more ominous statement, that “The president’s misconduct cannot be decided at the ballot box, for we cannot be assured that the vote will be fairly won.”

If not at the ballot box, where then? In the streets?

Twenty years ago, George W. Bush won the election by a very narrow margin, and only after a Supreme Court ruling upheld the results.

On Dec. 13, 2000, Democrat Al Gore conceded to Bush in a speech that followed in the tradition of the loser recognizing the legitimacy of the incoming President. While noting his disagreement with the court’s ruling, Gore said that “partisan rancor must now be put aside.”

“I accept the finality of the outcome. … And tonight, for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.”

That statement should guide the words and actions of all concerned in 2020.