If Donald Trump loses the election what will he do?
A lot of people couldn’t give a Trump, frankly. He can go back to reality TV, write some self-serving memoirs, or have them ghost written, and promote a new line in Trump presidential memorabilia. They’d sell well: “I Made America Great Again” hats, Trump Superman dolls, toadstool-shaped love toys. He could spend more time with Melania, whether she likes it or not; and more time on the golf course. Who cares?
Of course it isn’t quite that simple. If only it were. I suspect he might be a bit of a sore loser, you know. And we’ll be subjected to years of mad conspiracy theories about how “they” rigged the election.
Trump needs to do all that to keep up the pressure on his persecutors, who are also not inclined to fade away. Most of all, Trump has to escape from the personal legal entanglements that have complicated his presidency - and that means nothing less than a full presidential pardon.
It seems outlandish, and it is. It’s been an idea kicking around since the Mueller inquiry and then after the first steps towards impeachment a couple of years ago. At times Trump is supposed to have thought he could pardon himself (even he must know he can’t). A few weeks ago Trump’s former attorney, Mike Cohen, suggested a pardon could be granted by a briefly installed President Pence, and last week the idea surfaced again via social media, albeit a bit randomly and with something of a Democrat spin on it.
Still, a pardon for Trump makes sense for everyone, for America, for Pence as well as Trump.
America needs to get the Trump era, or error, over. As with the resignation and pardon of Richard Nixon in 1974, America has to heal from the trauma of the past few years. A lengthy trial, or trials, of Trump would do nothing to ease the tensions and end the pain that Trump has done so much to inflict on his country. In fact it would give him ample opportunity to carry on regardless, rallying angry supporters given to violence and generally undermining the nation’s fragile race relations. In the words of President Gerald Ford at that time, America’s long, national nightmare will only be over when the legal processes are ended. It will be, as the Book of Ecclesiastes says, a time to heal. And we know that Mike Pence is a good man. When he introduced himself to America in 2016 he called himself a Christian first, an American second and a Republican third. Now is his chance to do his Christian duty, his democratic duty and repair his party all at once. It would be the right thing to do. He might be “the man who pardoned Trump” but also the man who helped bind up America’s wounds.
Trump himself obviously has plenty of incentive to do the deal of his life. He will in due course face a variety of serious charges currently grinding their way through the New York courts, and perhaps fresh ones too relating to tax. These were bad enough to see some of his closest associates sent to jail. Trump knows that, and will concentrate on making sure he avoids becoming the first president to be incarcerated. Trump’s personal nightmare is just beginning; suffering Covid-19 and then possibly losing to Joe Biden. He’s becoming “a loser”, or “Crooked Donald” as Hillary would call him. A pardon helps him dodge that intolerable fate and a few months or more in a cell, his business organisation, reputation, fortune (if any) all destroyed.
For it now seems improbable that Trump will be able to stay in the White House by bullying everyone and threatening lawsuits. The margin of Joe Biden’s victory might be so big it would be foolish to even try to dispute the result. If things are tighter he might still judge it worth a try, but there is the risk, in fact overwhelming probability, that the Supreme Court will throw Trump’s objections out summarily. Suddenly Trump no longer looks invincible.
The author of The Art of The Deal must realise he is in a weak bargaining position, but not an impossible one. After 3 November, the deal with Pence, and the wider political establishment would be this: grant me, Donald John Trump, a presidential pardon and I will resign the office of president immediately; I will abandon all legal proceedings on my behalf and by me personally to set aside or challenge the legitimacy of the 2020 election; I will voluntarily and unconditionally accept the people’s verdict; I will not organise any political campaign to challenge the result; I will shut up, just like Joe told me to.
From the point of view of President Pence, who will be a caretaker until Biden is sworn in on 20 January, he will do what Ford did in 1974, and put the wider interests of America first. He would re-establish some faith in the democratic process.
Biden would help matters if he acquiesced in the move; he does not wish to be distracted by a running battle with the Trumpites. The alternative, after all, would be a deep feeling of resentment and betrayal among the Trump base that “their” president, and they, had been cheated and robbed of their victory. The stab-in-the-back myth and conspiracy theories would still get around, as they always do, but Trump would be actively discouraging them this time, or at least staying off Twitter. There would be no campaign for a Trump comeback. He can retire to Mar-a-Lago. He can claim, quite truthfully, that he never wanted to be president in the first place.
So here then, just to be helpful, is something like the text of the necessary presidential proclamation, based on President Ford’s post-Watergate text of 8 September 1974. See how it makes you feel as you read this possible near future:
“As a result of certain acts or omissions occurring before his resignation from the Office of President, Donald Trump has become liable for possible indictment and trial for offenses against the United States...
“It is believed that a trial of Donald Trump, if it became necessary, could not fairly begin until a year or more has elapsed. In the meantime, the tranquility to which this nation has been restored by the events of recent weeks could be irreparably lost by the prospects of bringing to trial a former president of the United States. The prospects of such a trial will cause prolonged and divisive debate over the propriety of exposing to further punishment and degradation a man who has already paid the penalty of relinquishing the highest elective office of the United States.
“Now, THEREFORE, I, MICHAEL RICHARD PENCE, President of the United States, pursuant to the pardon power conferred upon me by Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, have granted and by these presents do grant, a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Donald Trump for all offenses against the United States which he, Donald Trump, has committed or may have committed or taken part in through 3 November 2020.”
I bet you’re feeling better already.
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