Trump will do anything to win, but when he loses, more likely will spend the time between election day and inauguration day on revenge and pardons.
Trump never planned on playing fair in the election to begin with.
Trump has been denouncing vote by mail for months, falsely claiming it’s a common avenue for fraud. Bill Barr claimed without evidence — or, when you think about it, logic — that foreign countries would mail in counterfeit ballots. The reason they’re making these accusations isn’t subtle. As President Trump said on Fox & Friends about expanding vote by mail, “If you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
But Trump’s problem is that these sort of electoral shenanigans only pay off at the margins. Maybe they can swing a closely-divided state, but they can’t overcome the kind of 5- and 7-point deficits Trump is seeing in most battleground state polls.
Which means he’d need to do something next-level, like changing vote totals, suspending the election, or refusing to leave after a certified loss. And those would be extremely difficult.
Large-scale vote tampering would take a massive operation and be difficult to hide. Changing Election Day requires an act of Congress. Refusing to leave after a loss would require support from the military and the Secret Service.
Trump could certainly contest a close election. Definitely if it’s within recount range. And if Trump’s leading on Election Night, but mail-in ballots give Biden the victory a week later, Trump could cry fraud, launch lawsuits, tell his supporters that it’s not over, and fight it out all the way to the Supreme Court. (Neil Gorsuch being the deciding vote against Trump would be the greatest irony of them all.)
But contesting an unambiguous loss takes on a lot of additional risk — to himself and his family, let alone the country — for a relatively low chance of success. The man who went to the White House bunker in response to Black Lives Matter protests probably doesn’t have the stomach for the public reaction if he loses and tries to stay.
Especially when there’s another option.
Do you ever notice that sometimes it looks like Trump’s heart isn’t really in it?
Well, Trump’s presidency is going bankrupt. Which means that he will put himself first and get out with as much as he can, screwing over whoever he has to on the way out the door. In this scenario, after losing the election Trump would focus more on issuing pardons and setting up new business ventures than trying to remain in power.
Except for this: can a president pardon himself? Lawyers are on various sides of that question, and it hasn’t been tested. Maybe we’ll find out.
Or maybe Trump will resign in January so Pence can pardon him.