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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Marketing genius is perhaps the most appropriate way to describe Donald J. Trump’s newest incarnation as the announced host — he can hardly be called a “moderator” — of a post-Christmas Republican debate sponsored by Newsmax, the conservative magazine. Why would candidates agree to join this spectacle? (Jon Huntsman quickly declined, although he can always unleash his daughters’ often-brutal Twitter feed on Trump if he raises a ruckus.)

The problem immediately faced by any candidate who might not wish to risk being “fired” by the Donald onstage as millions watch is how to politely decline without being “fired” in a super-heated blast of publicity right now. As President Obama discovered earlier this year, the press eagerly latches onto Trump at every opportunity, even when he sounds utterly deranged.

With the possible exception of Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann — who seems to have established an actual friendship with Trump — these unfortunate Republicans cannot relish the prospect of an encounter with America’s towering ego. Whatever Trump’s intentions, how will he be able to resist upstaging, one-upping, contradicting, and perhaps even humiliating each of them in turn? And which of them will want to talk back smack to a publicity machine with his own Fox and Friends weekly timeslot called “Mondays with Trump”?

It is hard not to feel a bit sad for the Republicans today, although they have certainly brought this on themselves. Ed Rollins, the legendary Reagan aide who worked for the Bachmann campaign until earlier this year, expressed what many party stalwarts must be feeling: “Who made Trump the kingmaker? This campaign has been enough of a circus without making him the ringmaster.”

The only sure winners in this gong show are Trump himself and his sponsors at Newsmax, who can count on high ratings and massive media attention. Their constituencies will not be displeased no matter how Trump behaves. As Newsmax chief executive Christopher Ruddy told the New York Times, “Our readers and the grassroots really love Trump.”

But Ruddy’s remark could mean reopening a can of worms that in a saner world would remain tightly closed. Roger Stone, the ex-Nixon operative, former Trump consultant and full-time political schemer, warned that while the casino magnate’s role will be “interesting,” there could be dire consequences for the other participants. “Trump may appear more appealing a candidate to those watching than those he is moderating,” he said.

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]