For All His Bluster, Trump Cannot Actually Interfere With The Transfer of Power. But He Can Cause Problems.

There is justifiable concern with GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s repeated statements that the election is rigged, his supporters should go out and make sure no one is fraudulently voting, and with his repeated refusal to say he will abide by the election results. Those who describe his actions as “interfering with the transfer of power” are, however, wrong. Mr. Trump does not occupy an office, and he has no authority to direct anyone presently in power to interfere with the election or the certification of the results in the states and the District of Columbia. Only an incumbent president running for re-election would truly be in the position to do so. The last two presidents who, logically speaking, would have been in a position to interfere with the transfer of power were Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush. Of course, both graciously conceded their elections.

Concession of the losing candidate, whether gracious or not, is not required by the Constitution or by statute. To be sure a candidate or in some cases a voter can legally challenge an election result. Most often the first step in a challenge is demanding a recount. In many states there are automatic recounts if the vote difference is small, e.g., .5 percent or less. In some states a candidate can demand a recount in other circumstances, but must provide a bond or otherwise pay for the recount when the vote difference is not close. It’s hard to imagine the skinflint Mr. Trump putting up any money for such an action. Given his criticism of his party, it would be surprising for the RNC or state committees to spend money in his behalf on such a surely futile quest.

Nevertheless, Mr. Trump will likely cause us serious problems. Public opinion polling already shows that he has poisoned most of his supporters and a significant number of the voting population with the belief that the election is rigged. His racial dog whistle encouragement of his followers to go into inner city precincts and harass voters may well result in violence. And if he does not concede the election but continues to egg on his supporters, there very well again could be violence. It is unlikely that Mr. Trump will easily concede, if at all. And it is certain that even a concession from his lips would not be a gracious one. Mr. Trump has not issued a sincere apology for any word or act he has made in this campaign, or for any business practice in which he’s engaged over his entire career. The word gracious runs away whenever he is near.

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