With the national election less than three months away, and the polls continuing to show President Trump trailing Joe Biden by double figures, there’s an alternate scenario that seems unlikely, but not impossible. If Trump accepted the fact that he was going to lose in a landslide, would he consider withdrawing from the race or resigning from office rather than suffer a humiliating defeat?
While the president may desperately want to win, his path to victory is getting narrower and narrower. Short a miraculous downturn in coronavirus infections and deaths, and a dramatic economic recovery, he is facing an uphill battle, one where even his diehard base is severely overmatched. In 2016, Trump didn’t have to run on his record, instead fashioning himself as an agent of change, the outsider who would clean up Washington and drain the swamp. Now, he has to run on his accomplishments and failures and one is a short list and the other a full menu.
Short of a narrow electoral victory based on winning the same key swing states he narrowly prevailed in against Hillary Clinton, what avenues are left for the president other than suppressing votes, challenging the outcome or heaven forbid, starting a war or some other self-created international crisis. The concept Trump floated about delaying the election was quickly dismissed, even by his own party, so now he’s trying to discredit voting by mail. But let’s face it. The chances of the president being a gracious loser are slim, if not none. I wouldn’t expect to hear the words, “I want to congratulate Joe Biden on his hard-earned victory” in this lifetime.
This leaves one other lifeline for President Trump to avoid a devastating loss. For whatever reason, he could claim that a serious health issue is forcing him to withdraw. Despite his boasts that he’s physically fit and the most mentally competent president in history, the truth is he’s obese, doesn’t exercise or eat well and is under constant stress. And he has shown increasing signs of appearing incoherent, emotionally unhinged and unaware of basic facts. How many mentally-with-it people boast about passing a dementia test?
During press conferences and public appearances, the president constantly loses focus, goes off on tangents and paints himself as a victim. His recent lament centered on the fact that Dr. Fauci’s approval ratings were so much higher than his, saying “nobody likes me” and “it can only be my personality.” That’s hard to disagree with considering his bitter rhetoric, mistruths, scandals and scant achievements. And his complete lack of compassion and empathy were evidenced by his response in a recent interview when asked about the millions of infections and over 150,000 deaths suffered by Americans due to the coronavirus. “It is what it is.” Really?
How Trump has avoided catching COVID-19 is also a minor miracle considering how many people around him have gotten sick, the latest being his National Security Advisor, but also campaign staff, members of Vice-President Pence’s office, Secret Service agents and even his son’s girlfriend. Add in his refusal to wear a mask and the president is bucking the odds, no matter how many times he gets tested. While it would be cruel for anyone to catch the virus, in this case, his fiercest critics might call it karmic. I prefer to see Trump pummeled at the ballot box because that will be better for both the country and the Republican Party, which needs to start thinking about Life After Trump and what will be left of the GOP.
If Trump were to withdraw from seeking a second term, he would need to do it before the convention, because then the GOP would at least be able to nominate someone in his place. When LBJ decided not to run for a second term in 1968, he withdrew in March, so there was plenty of time for Democrats to choose a nominee. Of course, if Trump resigns, then Pence becomes president, but he’d also have to pick a running mate and there are state deadlines for getting on the ballot. Either way, it would be an absolute disaster for the Republican party, but at some point, looking at an inevitable shellacking, Trump might just say, “I’ve had enough.”
However, there is another element at play. If Trump withdraws or resigns, Pence could issue a presidential pardon. But if Trump loses the election, he becomes an ordinary citizen and liable for criminal prosecution. If he were to bow out, he might also be able to cut a deal with Biden that he won’t be prosecuted if he agrees to not harass and criticize the new administration. That may not fly with Democrats in Congress who voted to impeach Trump, but in this time of unprecedented crises, they will likely want to focus on governance, not criminal proceedings. The wild card in this script is the State of New York, which can not only prosecute Trump if he’s defeated, but also if he withdraws or resigns, even if he’s been pardoned. Their demand for Trump’s tax returns recently expanded in court filings and there are clearly reasons the president has fought so hard to keep them under wraps during his campaign and time in office.
It’s been reported in numerous books and articles that Trump never expected to win in 2016 and in fact, didn’t even want to be president. It was more about promoting the Trump brand. So, a logical question is: does he really want to win re-election? While nothing would gall Trump more than going down in history as a “loser,” does he actually covet four more years of a thankless job that doesn’t reward him with the adulation he so feverishly craves? In his mind, a booming economy may have assured victory a year ago. But now that the coronavirus has wreaked havoc on America’s short and long-term future, he might not make that same choice.
When he does leave office, he can continue building his brand, start his own Trump Network, and finally become the multi-billionaire he has always claimed to be. And Trump would be free of his nemeses in Congress, the federal bureaucracy, and the greatest thorn in his side, the news media. Well, not entirely free, but not having to answer to them every day.
Again, the president withdrawing or resigning is a long shot at best, but you can never take any scenario off the table with Donald Trump. But the fact is that his re-election campaign is listing badly and come November, it will be too late for the captain to abandon ship.