President Trump and his diehard supporters are clinging to the faint hope that the incumbent Republican can still win re-election.
Trump has fueled that unrealistic belief by refusing to concede to Joe Biden and by filing longshot lawsuits to try to overturn the results in the states he narrowly lost.
For Trump to succeed, it would take one or more of the following unlikely scenarios:
• The results would be reversed in at least three of the five states where Biden's margin of victory was the narrowest. It’s rare that recounts change more than a few hundred votes in a statewide race, much less 10,000 (Arizona), 14,000 (Georgia), 20,000 (Wisconsin), 33,000 (Nevada) or 72,000 (Pennsylvania). In fact, while the hand recount of Georgia’s ballots got Trump about 1,000 extra votes — that still was not enough for him to win the state.
• Democratic electors for Biden would be persuaded (in the states where this is even legal) to be so-called “faithless electors,” and cast their vote for Trump instead.
Thinking that electors, who are chosen for their party loyalty, would betray their nominee at the 11th hour is pure fantasy. Trump’s backers might recall that some Democrats (and anti-Trump Republicans) suffered from that same delusion four years ago. Although there are occasionally rogue electors, they can be counted on one hand, as political science professor Robert Alexander pointed out in a recent CNN column.
• Republican legislators and governors in states won by Biden would conspire to produce a second slate of electors, this time for Trump, on the pretense that Biden’s winning margin was tainted by rampant fraud.
Besides there being no evidence so far to support claims of widespread cheating, only two of these five states, Arizona and Georgia, are completely under Republican control. Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have Democratic governors, and in Nevada, the governor and both houses of its legislature are controlled by Democrats.
• Even if these states produced two slates of electors, a divided Congress would have to agree to reject the Biden slate and accept the Trump one instead. If they couldn’t agree to accept enough electors to put either candidate over the required 270, then there would be no winner.
What would happen then? Possibly, the election could be decided in the House, under the 12th Amendment, which allows each state delegation to cast one vote for president when no candidate has 270 electoral votes. With Republicans holding the majority of House seats in 26 states, conceivably that could give the election to Trump, assuming that lawmakers voted strictly along party lines.
But also conceivably Trump and his vice president, Mike Pence, would have to leave office on Jan. 20, and the presidency would pass to the person next in line: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
That might sound absurd, but it’s as likely an outcome as a second consecutive term for Trump. Republicans might want to think about that before they go further down this road.