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How good is Nancy Pelosi’s threat assessment?

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How good is Nancy Pelosi’s threat assessment?

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill, May 2. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP) By Daniel W. Drezner Daniel W. Drezner Bio Follow Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a regular contributor to PostEverything . May 6 at 2:50 PM In December 2017 , I argued that the best way for Donald Trump to exit the White House was through defeat at the ballot box:

The absolute best way for Trump and Trumpism to be repudiated is through democratic and not merely legal means. If Doug Jones defeats Roy Moore in Alabama despite a presidential endorsement, that represents a blow to Trump in the same way he was humiliated by the Virginia state elections last month. If the GOP loses badly in the midterms despite a healthy economy, that is an even bigger repudiation of the head of the Republican Party. And if Trump loses bigly in his quest for reelection in 2020, such a resounding defeat might shock the GOP into repudiating white identity politics.

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Electing Trump once was a fluke involving a fractured GOP, an unpopular Democrat nominee, and the Democrats having won the previous two terms. Electing Trump twice would be national suicide.

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The two things that needed to happen have happened: The GOP lost an Alabama Senate seat and lost the House in the midterms. The last and biggest hurdle is the 2020 elections. Given the malfeasance in the report by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, I certainly understand the urge by some to push toward impeachment. But I still like my outcome better.

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As it turns out, so does Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has slow-rolled impeachment talk and stated her preference for further investigations.

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On the whole, the hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts has been impressed with Pelosi’s command of her caucus for the first four months of 2019. That said, over the weekend, the New York Times’s Glenn Thrush reported on some more questionable elements of Pelosi’s thinking:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi does not believe President Trump can be removed through impeachment — the only way to do it, she said this week, is to defeat him in 2020 by a margin so “big” he cannot challenge the legitimacy of a Democratic victory.

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That is something she worries about

“We have to inoculate against that, we have to be prepared for that,” Ms. Pelosi said during an interview at the Capitol on Wednesday as she discussed her concern that Mr. Trump would not give up power voluntarily if he lost re-election by a slim margin next year…

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In recent weeks Ms. Pelosi has told associates that she does not automatically trust the president to respect the results of any election short of an overwhelming defeat. That view, fed by Mr. Trump’s repeated and unsubstantiated claims of Democratic voter fraud, is one of the reasons she says it is imperative not to play into the president’s hands, especially on impeachment

The whole article is worth reading to get a sense of Pelosi’s mind-set on Trump. And I certainly agree with her that the larger the Democratic margin of victory in 2020, the greater the repudiation it would be of the 45th president. My concern here, however, is less Trump than the GOP. It will require a serious thumping for the party to recognize that maybe, just maybe, ill-informed populist nationalism is not a winning long-term political strategy

On the other hand, I suspect it was a mistake for Pelosi to publicize any of this. First, it incentivizes bad behavior from Trump. Indeed, a day after this story broke, Trump seemed to be trolling her about it on Twitter:

POTUS just RTed this, which suggests his term should be extended by two years.

— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) May 5, 2019 Second, the idea that any margin of victory will stop Trump from claiming foul play gives far too much credit to Trump. As Princeton historian Kevin Kruse tweeted : “This is idiotic. Trump will surely contest a defeat no matter *how* it happens.” New Yorker staff writer Philip Gourevitch noted , “he’s spent the past couple years contesting a win,” and he’s not wrong about that. If Trump loses, he’ll contest it. If he loses handily, he’ll just claim even greater amounts of ballot fraud. Remember, this remains his explanation for why he lost the popular vote in 2016

Third — and here I might be more sanguine than Democrats — in most scenarios, it does not really matter whether Trump contests the election outcome. If Trump wins 270 electoral college votes, he wins. If he loses, and the electoral authorities in the states certify the results, then he can complain all he wants. The Secret Service will still be escorting him out of the building at noon on Jan. 20, 2021. The fear that the president will install cronies in security services that will keep him in power does not appear to have any evidence. If he loses, they’ll execute their constitutional obligations to throw him to the curb

The scenario that most disturbs Democrats would be if the 2020 outcome hinged on a state in which Trumpist Republicans controlled the election machinery and somehow stacked the deck in favor of Trump. A replay of the 2000 election, in which a GOP governor of Florida, a GOP secretary of state and a conservative majority in the Supreme Court could tilt the playing field, might be the worst-case scenario for Pelosi and the Democrats

The likelihood of that precise scenario happening seems awfully slim, however. Florida was not the pivotal state in 2016. The states that everyone thinks for 2020 are key are Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. As it turns out, thanks to the midterms, none of them has a Republican secretary of state or a Republican governor. Trump can bark and bray all he wants; he can’t pressure Democrats in those states to change the results for him

Furthermore, it is worth remembering from the Mueller report that even Trump’s most loyal acolytes refused to break the law for him. If Trump can’t even get Corey Lewandowski to engage in some raw power politics to stay in power, I am dubious of his ability to get the people he would need to get to alter election results

It is also worth remembering that when Trump has faced adverse election results during his presidency, he has accepted the results. He acknowledged that Democrat Doug Jones beat Republican Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race, and that Democrats had won the House despite a lot of tight elections that changed in the week after Election Day. Sure, he will fight harder when it is his own name on the ballot, but his malevolence will always be hampered by his incompetence

In his NYT story , Thrush reported: “Ms. Pelosi laced Wednesday’s conversation with scathing descriptions of Mr. Trump’s fitness to serve as president, taking issue with his ‘attention span’ and his ‘lack of knowledge of the subjects at hand’ during their negotiating sessions.” Those traits sound awfully familiar . They also do not sound like someone who could successfully orchestrate a constitutional coup even if he knew how

There are a lot of things I worry about in the Age of Trump. Him defying an electoral loss ain’t one of them. He will do it, of course. It just won’t matter


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