New book envisions what could happen if Trump loses reelection and refuses to concede

Imagine it’s January 2021, one week before the U.S. president is inaugurated. However it isn’t exactly clear who is going to be inaugurated. The November election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden was so close that neither candidate got the 270 electoral votes needed to win. 

The responsibility to pick the next president falls to the House. It deadlocks, and the Supreme Court won’t intervene. 

With no clear winner, the presidency falls to the speaker of the House, meaning Nancy Pelosi becomes the acting president. But Trump refuses to leave the White House, and he tells the military he is still the commander in chief.  

This is one of the scenarios Amherst College Law Professor Lawrence Douglas lays out in his new book, Will He Go? Trump and the Looming Election Meltdown in 2020.” 

Taken from the INTRODUCTION to
Trump and the Looming Election Meltdown in 2020

On the last day of August 2019, a group of prominent scholars gathered in a conference room in the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C. Befitting the center’s mission, the scholars represented Democrats and Republicans, progressives and conservatives. What brought them together was a shared expertise in presidential electoral law. That, and a fear that our process for electing the president might be vulnerable to spectacular failure.

To describe the threat facing our system, some of the experts borrowed metaphors from astrophysics. An asteroid is heading straight toward America. Are we equipped to knock it out of the sky? Others spoke in meteorological terms. A Katrina- like storm is gathering off our shores; how strong is our system of levees?

Their sobering answer— prepare for a flood.

For tens of millions of Americans, the 2020 election promises to accomplish what the impeachment proceeding never stood a chance of doing— remove Donald Trump from office. For those who questioned the tactical wisdom of impeaching the president, focusing on 2020 was always the better way to go.

Come Tuesday, November 3, at issue will not be whether Trump committed high crimes or misdemeanors but whether he has earned another term as the nation’s chief executive. Republican lawmakers cannot accuse Democrats of trying to defeat the will of the people if the people vote Trump out of the White House.

Of course, there is no guarantee that Trump will be defeated at the polls. But if he is, he will leave the White House not as a martyr of Congress but as a rejected incumbent. Trump survived the judgment of the Senate; he will have no choice but to submit to the verdict of the voters.

That is the hope, anyway. Some observers, however, have expressed grave doubts about the coming election, including several of the experts gathered last summer in the D.C. conference room. Their concern was not that Trump might win the election, or that he might steal it through disinformation, foreign interference, and voter suppression, real as those concerns are. Their worry was different. What if the election produced an unclear result, one that could be contested? Or what if Trump lost—but refused to acknowledge or accept his defeat?

To believe that beating Trump at the polls provides not only the proper but also the most secure way of removing him from office is to miss the singular menace that this president represents to a basic principle of democratic governance: the peaceful succession of power.

If Trump is thoroughly trounced in November 2020, he will be limited in his maneuvers, master in democratic negation though he may be. But in case of a slender victory by his Democratic challenger or an uncertain result, chaos beckons. Trump will not go quietly. He might not go at all.

Asked to assess the magnitude of the risk that Trump represents to orderly succession, most of the experts I consulted soberly gave it a nine on the proverbial one‑to‑ten scale. A former senior advisor to President Obama reflected for a moment, then gave a different answer: “Do we have an eleven?”

From the book WILL HE GO: Trump and the Looming Election Meltdown in 2020. Copyright (c) 2020 by Lawrence Douglas. Reprinted by permission of Twelve/Hachette Book Group, New York, NY. All rights reserved.



  • Lawrence Douglas - professor of law, jurisprudence and social thought at Amherst College; author of “Will He Go? Trump and the Looming Election Meltdown in 2020”