Today's BradCast is a really meaty show and --- at times --- a quite terrifying one. Apologies in advance! [Audio link to show is posted at bottom of summary.]
We're joined today by NILS GILMAN, Vice President of Programs at the Berggruen Institute and co-founder of the Transition Integrity Project (TIP). The bi-partisan group was founded in late 2019 to examine concerns, as Gilman explains today, about whether a Joe Biden victory would result in a reasonably smooth transition with the Trump Administration or whether, as the group's chilling new report [PDF] "Preventing a Disrupted Presidential Election and Transition" describes, they needed to be concerned "that the Trump Administration may seek to manipulate, ignore, undermine or disrupt the 2020 presidential election and transition process." As TIP would discover, however, those nightmares could be far worse than the group initially expected. An actual transition process of any kind, at this point, might be a welcome response to some of the group's worse fears.
"Already it's certain that if Biden manages to win, he's going to be handed an inbox from hell," Gilman tells me. "There's going to be probably 15% unemployment. There's going to be an ongoing pandemic. There's going to be a lot of social contestation in the country. We'd like for him to at least be handed a functional bureaucracy. But we weren't convinced that was actually going to take place. ... What we learned in that process was it wasn't just the administrative process that could potentially be disrupted, it would be potentially the electoral transition itself that was subject to disruption."
TIP, a group of more than 100 current and former senior government officials, campaign leaders and other experts from media to the military convened to examine these issues and "war gamed" several different potential scenarios for how things might play out from November 3rd (Election Day) through January 20, 2021 (Inauguration Day). Over four different sessions, examining four different potential electoral scenarios, the highly-esteemed panel of former Governors, DoJ officials, campaign chiefs and advisers of both parties role-played as both Team Trump and Team Biden. As their recently published report details, the tabletop "war game" exercises included a scenario that "posited that the winner of the election was not known as of the morning after the election and the outcome of the race was too close to predict with certainty; in another, the exercise began with the premise that Democratic party candidate Joe Biden won the popular vote and the Electoral College by a healthy margin; and in a third, the exercise assumed that President Trump won the Electoral College vote but again lost the popular vote by a healthy margin. The fourth exercise began with the premise that Biden won both the popular vote and the Electoral College by a narrow margin."
Following the exercises, TIP's other co-founder and Georgetown Law Professor Rosa Brooks told Fox "News" (which happens to play a key role on behalf of Trump and the Republican effort in every case), all of the scenarios "ended in both street-level violence and political impasse." Brooks observed that "the law is essentially...almost helpless against a President who's willing to ignore it."
As Gilman warns in his own recent article "Getting from November to January," explaining how the exercises helped to reveal that institutions from government to political organizations to the courts to citizen activists and media could help mitigate the worst possible scenarios: "Wargaming shows that, short of a landslide victory for Joe Biden in the upcoming elections, we may be headed for a severe constitutional crisis." He adds: "in each scenario other than a Biden landslide, we ended up with a constitutional crisis that lasted until the inauguration, featuring violence in the streets and a severely disrupted administrative transition."
Sounds cheery, no? Gilman, who is also an historian, joins us today to discuss the genesis of the project; the comparable historical parallel to our upcoming election (the 1876 election between Democrat Samuel Tilden and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, where two different sets of competing electors were sent by states to D.C. before the Constitutional Crisis was finally averted with a comprise that resulted in the end of the Civil War Reconstruction period, launching more than a 100 years of Jim Crow that we are still dealing with today); the specifics findings of the Project (eg. the potential dispute created by Trump's authoritarian use of Presidential powers to, for example, employ the Dept. of Justice to seize ballots and stop the counting) must be met "as a political battle, not just a legal battle"; and that during the exercises, "Team Trump was consistently more ruthless than Team Biden – more willing to ignore existing democratic norms, to make use of disinformation, to deploy federal agencies to promote Trump's personal and electoral interests, and to engage in intimidation campaigns."
As former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum, one of the participants in the exercises noted, "The worst news is that, faced with presidential lawlessness, few of the participants at the Transition Integrity Project found effective responses. ... Many of the games turned on who made the first bold move. Time after time, that first mover was Trump."
While Gilman argues that nothing is inevitable, he notes, "the media will have a huge role in this" and the time to talk about it is NOW. "The plea I would make would be to patriots --- particularly people in the government who have taken an oath to the defend Constitution --- that there are some basic principles, which are not partisan at all. Every American citizen that wants to vote should be enabled to do so as easily and safely as possible, and every one of those votes should be counted properly."
His TIP report goes further to note that it is "just as important that the public has confidence in the count." That, as I discuss with Gilman, may require a level of transparency in our voting system that --- despite my best efforts over the past nearly-two decades --- we have long ago been obscured with computer tabulation and voting systems which make it impossible, after an election, to know if many ballots --- at least those that are not hand-marked paper ballots --- actually reflect the intent of each voter.
As mentioned, it's a very meaty show, with a LOT to talk about. Gilman joins us for the full hour, and even that wasn't enough to cover so much of what the group found; what we can all do about it; and whether our mainstream media, the Biden Campaign and the Democratic Party itself are prepared to handle what is very likely to be hurled at them --- and all of us --- as of November 3rd...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)