A spoiler alert for those mercifully hoping for an uneventful Tuesday: This could also be the race that never ends. And did I mention they are throwing bricks at the runners?
According to Axios, Donald Trump is planning to declare victory if it looks like he’s ahead on election night. That is the nightmare scenario I warned about in August. And it’s just one of the many ways this election could go sideways after the votes are all cast. The Trump campaign is reportedly telling top surrogates to keep November open for more rallies or campaign events after election day, as ballots are being counted. And they’re now making all online donations recurring weekly ones by default, which is quite the online gimmick to trigger just days before the contest those contributions are supposed to help win is ostensibly set to end.
So while nearly everyone is waiting to exhale, there’s a real possibility that we will end up in a sort of campaign season purgatory where it’s always winter but never Christmas. If no clear victor emerges, we won’t just enter into a contested election with well-heeled lawyers arguing on Crossfire and bespectacled bureaucrats counting chads. No, there will be rallies and protests and TV ads and speeches and riots—and not just the “Brooks Brothers” kind with khaki-wearing preppies, but the brick-throwing kind. Already, major cities are being boarded up, and not in preparation for a Biden victory like all the polls and talking heads are telling us will happen. This is to protect us from the same people who are tearing up Philadelphia and Portland, in the event that Trump wins, pretends he wins, or if it’s just not clear who won.
Republicans, too, have gotten a lot more thuggish since 2000. On Saturday, the Biden campaign was forced to cancel an event in Texas after truck-driving, flag-waving MAGA forces ambushed its bus on the interstate. One Twitter observer compared the flag-waving trucks to ISIS’s caravans, but —especially after a Trump convoy actually did block New Jersey’s Garden State Parkway on Sunday—it reminded me more of those left-wing protesters who shut down freeways. Today’s young activists may not appreciate why this is so scary, but people my age remember Reginald Denny, the truck driver yanked from his cab and brutally beaten by a mob during the L.A. riots.
If that sounds over-the-top, consider that we live in a world where a legit plot to kidnap the Democratic governor of Michigan was actually being planned—and where people on Saturday were protesting outside Attorney General Bill Barr’s house because he won’t “lock up” Joe Biden. On Sunday, the Floyd County, Georgia, Democratic Party canceled a rally because “a large militia presence is expected in Rome today due to Trump’s visit.”
In the case of the caravan chasing Biden’s bus, it’s the kind of development Fox News’s Jeanine Pirro praised as an example of “ordinary Americans just taking this election into their own hands." (Hey, we said we wanted more citizens involved in politics!) But who could blame the passengers for mistaking this for a highway to hell? Those were menacing and provocative acts by the drivers in the Trump caravan—acts that Trump himself then applauded. Not only was this (as far as I can tell) unprecedented, but it is likely just the latest tactic we’ll see repeated in the hellscape known as a permanent campaign.
It’s not clear who deserves blame for the term, “permanent campaign” (some say it was Sidney Blumenthal, who wrote a book by that title. Others credit the general concept to Jimmy Carter wunderkind Pat Cadell, who wrote a 1976 memo urging the newly-elected president to accept that “governing with public approval requires a continuing political campaign”). Whoever coined that term meant it figuratively. The idea was that you should never completely shift from campaign mode to governing mode. Back then, this was both an unseemly and a revolutionary notion. Today, it seems quaint. T
We may be just days from entering what is literally a permanent campaign—where we are in electoral limbo so the campaign never stops—where politics is no longer a bloodless proxy war, but a series of literal street fights with formerly apathetic citizens pressed to pick a side.
This summer, New York Times writer Ben Smith reported on campaign war games where John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign chairman, played the role of Joe Biden. As Smith writes, Podesta “shocked the organizers by saying he felt his party wouldn’t let him concede. Alleging voter suppression, he persuaded the governors of Wisconsin and Michigan to send pro-Biden electors to the Electoral College.” Next, several blue states threatened to secede, the House named Biden president, while the Senate went with Trump. “At that point in the scenario, the nation stopped looking to the media for cues, and waited to see what the military would do.”
This war-game scenario supposes that Biden is to blame. But it’s totally possible that Biden would graciously concede, only to watch his supporters take the idea of “burning it all down” literally. And, of course, it’s hard to imagine that Donald Trump would do anything to calm down his MAGA forces. He recently told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” which, I suppose, means they are on alert.
It has become fashionable for media elites and protectors of democracy to try and replace election day with the term “election season.” They have good reason to do so: They want to get us used to the notion that it may take some time to count all the mail-in ballots. But I am reminded of how the media coined the term called “fake news” to mean Macedonian teenagers who were writing fake pro-Trump posts, only to see it weaoponized by Trump into an attack on the fourth estate.
I hate election season already.