After a divisive first term, many voters fear Donald Trump’s reelection in 2020. Legal experts are fretting about more extreme possibilities, however: What if the election is too close to call or Trump refuses to quietly accept defeat? What if his militant supporters come to his aid? In Will He Go?, legal scholar Lawrence Douglas analyzes how the United States could find itself in the midst of a constitutional crisis. Some might find his proffered scenarios a bit excessive, but if nothing else, Douglas offers a good primer on the intricacies and vulnerabilities of American electoral laws.
The 2020 presidential election could cause a constitutional crisis.
Many legal scholars are concerned about the potential outcome of the November 3, 2020, election. They aren’t just worried that Trump might engineer a victory via Russian interference, voter suppression and “fake news” propaganda, as occurred in 2016. Legal experts wonder what will happen if the election results are too close to call, or if Trump’s volatility, self-interest and disregard for political norms lead him to reject a loss at the ballot box. Either scenario threatens the core democratic principle of the peaceful succession of power and could prompt a constitutional crisis.
Trump is highly motivated to stay in office, because once he is no longer president, he might face the consequences of multiple ongoing legal actions against him. For example, the statute of limitations for obstruction of justice is five years. Trump could avoid that fallout if he wins a second term and thus gives the statute of limitations time to expire.
Trump is unlikely to adhere to democratic norms.
Lawrence Douglas is the James J. Grosfeld Professor of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought at Amherst College, Massachusetts. He is a graduate of Yale Law School and the author of several books.