Report: Obama had a plan in case Trump lost the election and wouldn’t accept the results

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No, he wasn’t going to drone him or anything like that.

Although … I don’t know. Obama did love his drones.

He had a plan for what to do before the drones might be needed, let’s say.

The Obama White House plan, according to interviews with [Ben] Rhodes and Jen Psaki, Obama’s communications director, called for congressional Republicans, former presidents, and former Cabinet-level officials including Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, to try and forestall a political crisis by validating the election result. In the event that Trump tried to dispute a Clinton victory, they would affirm the result as well as the conclusions reached by the U.S. intelligence community that Russian interference in the election sought to favor Trump, and not Clinton. Some Republicans were already aware of Russian interference from intelligence briefings given to leaders from both parties during the chaotic months before the election. “We wanted to handle the Russia information in a way that was as bipartisan as possible,” Rhodes said…

Rhodes said he didn’t know how Trump would respond to impeachment. “It’s a really interesting question,” he said. “At a minimum, he could choose to implore his supporters not to accept the result. Given that 30 to 35 percent of the country believes whatever he says, and his enormous public megaphone, you could foresee a scenario where that would lead to a fairly worrisome political situation.”

Here’s something I wrote three weeks before the election in 2016, expecting two wars to break out on the right if Trump lost, as seemed likely. The big war would be the ideological struggle between conservatives and populist-nationalists, which is going on even now in a low-key way and will eventually reach a higher key after Trump. The other war would focus on the results on Election Night:

The smaller war, which will be shorter, will be fought over whether Clinton’s victory was legitimate or not. There may be surprises among the combatants in the small war: Mike Pence or Kellyanne Conway, both of whom have futures in the traditional GOP, may end up arguing that Clinton’s win was on the level. So will Trump-supporting Republican governors like Rick Scott, who’ll be forced to vouch for the credibility of Florida’s results. On the other side, Trump and his diehard fan base, including parts of conservative media like Hannity’s show, will dismiss everyone who accepts the election results as collaborationists with an illegitimate regime. That’ll complicate things for the GOP caucuses in the House and Senate: Some Republicans will fear being primaried if they defend Clinton’s right to govern or, worse, if they try to compromise with her on legislation. And there’ll be some Republican voters caught in the middle who want a robust GOP resistance to Democrats in Congress but who also think it’s stupid to go on whining about “rigging,” especially if Clinton wins in a landslide. You’re going to see, in other words, a splintering on the right on basic questions of the opposition’s legitimacy, not just on what direction the party should take. That should make the coming sh*tshow within the party extra zesty.

A Clinton landslide would have been hard for Trump to explain away as a matter of vote-rigging but a shockingly narrow Clinton victory would have been much easier, and we almost ended up with that exact scenario. A little tilt in Florida and Pennsylvania and Michigan to the left and citizen Trump might still be out there every week on Fox insisting that the Democrats stole the election for Hillary. The Republican Senate majority would have faced tremendous pressure from the base to roadblock her SCOTUS nominees indefinitely on grounds that they were appointed by an illegitimate president. (They might have done that even if she’d won handily, frankly.) Legislative compromise might have been impossible, to the extent it wouldn’t have been under any circumstances.

The Obama plan to recruit congressional Republicans to vouch for the election results would have had some success in the event of a Clinton landslide but any Republican who vouched for a narrow Clinton win would have been deemed a RINO and a traitor and a “deep-stater” or whatever and targeted for primaries. Certainly old-guard Republicans like the Bushes and Powell and Rice would have done their part to declare Hillary the winner, and some Republican voters would have been persuaded by that, but not the base. The people caught in the tightest vice would have been next-gen officeholders like Cruz, Rubio, and Haley. They would have wanted to validate Clinton’s win, if only to pronounce Trumpism officially dead and to dump it into a ditch ahead of a conservative revival. But they couldn’t have. Doing so might have ended their careers by infuriating populists who refused to tolerate siding with Them instead of Us.

Even a neutral institutional arbiter declaring Clinton the winner probably wouldn’t have cut it. James Comey’s seal of approval on the results as up-and-up only would have reminded righties that he had it in his power the previous summer to charge Hillary for mishandling classified information and gave her a pass despite probable cause existing under the plain text of the statute. “Comey’s in the tank for Democrats,” righties would have said. “He wants to be FBI director forever. You can’t trust him.” So the FBI’s validation wouldn’t have worked either.

Needless to say, Fox and most of righty media would have dined out on the “rigged election” theory for years. Which raises the question: What if Trump loses narrowly in 2020? You know he’s not going to bless an unfavorable outcome as “fair.” There’ll be some insinuation of cheating, probably involving hordes of illegal aliens somehow voting in the millions without detection. It’ll be harder for him in 2020 to pull off the “rigged” spin, though, for the simple reason that he and not Obama will be in charge of the executive branch when the votes are counted. Rationally, that should make no difference: It’s the states that count the votes, not the feds, so who the president is doesn’t matter. But if you’re inclined to embrace a conspiracy theory, it’s obviously easier to imagine Obama somehow using the power of his office to tweak the vote totals against Trump than it is to imagine Trump doing so. Plus, if Trump were to lose in 2020 I think plenty of his own deputies would vouch for the integrity of the election — people in a position to know like Chris Wray and Dan Coats, plus other cabinet secretaries like Mattis whose duties don’t bear directly on elections but who are respected by Trump’s fans. There’ll still be plenty of Trump supporters who believe the outcome was rigged but it’s simply harder for Trump to make that sale having served four years in office. The power of the “rigged” message in 2016 would have rested on the perception that establishmentarians might do anything, up to and including vote-tampering, to keep the uncouth populist outsider from coming to Washington and messing with their swampy rackets. That argument doesn’t work once Trump has actually won and done a full term. Or at least, it doesn’t work nearly as well.

Exit question: Is there *anyone* besides Trump himself with enough cred among Trump voters that he or she might convince populists a Trump defeat in 2020 is legit by vouching for the vote totals? The only person I can think of with even a chance to do so is Mattis, and even he wouldn’t have much sway. No one with any populist pull, like the stars of conservative media, would go anywhere near crossing the base on something it wanted to believe as badly as that Trump had been cheated out of reelection.

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