What if Trump Loses the Election But Refuses to Leave Office?

For months now, Donald Trump has been attempting to sow seeds of doubt into voters’ minds about the legitimacy of presidential votes. He has claimed that “illegal immigrants” end up rigging voting number and that absentee ballots — which are in high demand amid the current pandemic — are completely rigged. While these claims can be easily disproved, Trump has instilled some doubt about voting numbers in many Americans’ minds. With some people believing elections are rigged, Trump’s suggestion that he will not be leaving office regardless of November’s results is not completely implausible. With enough Republican support, an official loss may not mean a real loss for Trump.

Spoiler alert: If Trump lost by an objectively huge margin, it is next to impossible that he could claim fraud and then refuse to leave office. That being said, a smaller margin (a margin that is, of course, defined by Trump himself) could more plausibly lead to a scenario where Trump does refuse to leave office and actually wields the power to do so.

As we know from the 2000 election between Al Gore and George W. Bush, winning by just a small margin could ignite enough embers to effectively change the presidential winner — that is, with enough motivation and disdain for the other candidate. As The Intercept notes, Bush’s campaign was feisty enough to continue pursuing a legal battle against Gore’s when Gore demanded a recount of Florida votes. Gore backed down, and Bush took office. As someone more stubborn than Bush, Trump likely would not back down from legal pursuits should Biden win by a small margin, and that is where it becomes possible for Trump to refuse to leave office. 

During the 2000 election, the official margin between the two candidates was 537 votes, and that caused an uproar. Since he has been talking about voter fraud for the last few months, Trump could plausibly lose by more votes and still cause a public uproar in order to delay the election. With people already concerned about the legitimacy of votes, without losing by a landslide, it’s quite possible Trump could follow through with his plans to stay in office. 

There are two key ways this could happen:

  1. 1. Trump could prematurely and publicly claims that he has won the election

    Should Trump tweet on election night that he has won, despite all votes being counted yet, it would influence the American perspective on the election. We would believe Trump has won, especially if his tweet were to get picked up by news stations. 

    Then, as mail-in ballots rolled in, Biden would actually win after the full votes were counted. (Side note: Those planning to cast a ballot by mail are, according to the New York Times, “mostly Biden supporters.” These mail-in votes are likely to tip the scale.) Trump could fight courts and legislatures and attempt to cause a recount and muddle the results. Additionally, if mail-in ballots were delayed on account of the massive increase in absentee ballots and the current pandemic, Trump could argue that those ballots should not count toward the presidency and claim he won.

    The eventual legal battle could go on for weeks as he refuses to concede. If he got enough Republican support, it’s possible courts would side with the GOP and cave, awarding Trump the election.

  2. 2. Republicans could stack an investigatory committee in a deciding state

    Should Trump lose marginally in a swing state controlled by a Republican legislature, an investigation into the state’s electoral college could be launched and stacked with Trump-supporting partisans. In layman’s terms, the state could say their popular vote was flawed and get Trump supporters to investigate this in an attempt to change the vote. 

    The Constitution gives state legislatures the right to decide how to select electors. Many states have created laws stating that electors have to cast their votes based on the state’s popular vote. However, since state legislatures have the authority to decide how electors vote, they can just change the casted vote. 

    If a state with a Republican legislature really wanted to, it could pass a bill stating that the state gets to directly appoint the electors, then stack it with Republicans. This way, the state could begin a recount with electors who will vote for Trump no matter what.

Of course, both of these scenarios are contingent on Trump winning by a decently small margin. That means both of these scenarios are preventable by simply voting this year. 

I know you all have one more question: Could Trump refuse to leave the White House even if he officially lost the election? 

Basically, no. 

The 20th amendment of the Constitution states, “The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January,” meaning that after that date and time, Trump wields no power. The Secret Service, military, and any foreign leaders will no longer follow his instructions. Should any member of the United States government attempt to keep him in power, they will be tried for mutiny and sedition. Additionally, Biden’s attorney general could draw up arrest warrants for trespassing if Trump refused to leave the premises.

TL;DR: As long as Trump loses by a good chunk of votes, we’ve got nothing to worry about. You can register to vote in less than two minutes online here.

As always: Stay safe, register to vote, and eat the rich.