Meltdown

Donald Trump is going to go out the way he came in: with petulance, lies, and no regard for anyone other than himself.

Good evening. There are 75 days until the inauguration of the next President of the United States. Welcome to the interregnum.

The Topline

It was an incredible spectacle yesterday- a President on the verge of defeat, standing in front of the Presidential seal in the White House briefing room, spewing lies so incoherently that the major news networks all pulled away within minutes. Daniel Dale, the CNN reporter famous for fact-checking Donald Trump, tweeted “I've read or watched all of Trump's speeches since 2016. This is the most dishonest speech he has ever given.” Overnight, the President continued his disinformation campaign on Twitter, earning four restrictions from Twitter moderators charged with limiting falsehoods about the election.

The White House, by multiple accounts, is in meltdown mode. Trump’s odds, at this late hour, are nearly impossible, and fractures are starting to emerge in the Republican party, even as some sycophants continue to amplify the Trump victim narrative. In an afternoon press conference, Senate Majority Leader (for now) Mitch McConnell refused to comment on what outcome he expects, but he did promise something that Donald Trump has not: a peaceful transfer of power if Joe Biden wins the Presidency.

This newsletter was conceived as a project for just this moment: the interregnum, the period between the election and the inauguration. So even as the final votes are tabulated, what do we know about the weeks ahead, and how a new government will be formed?

What the Biden Camp is Doing

First things first: the Biden-Harris team has launched a transition website, though to date it is nothing more than a stub page. But even in this period of uncertainty over the outcome, the Biden team is getting started. Part of the work is getting Republican allies to endorse the election’s outcome, to try to help move the country forward despite Trump’s pathetic behavior.

That matters- because the clock is ticking, and a lengthy fight could cost the transition time, the key currency in the effort to stand up a government and install as many as 4,000 political appointees. But while “Biden can’t name nominees and landing teams can’t come into federal agencies during this waiting period,” reports Courtney Bublé for Government Executive, laws enacted following the 2001 terror attacks to ensure continuity in government do permit him to start the process of vetting people securing background checks and develop policy initiatives. The likely GOP-controlled Senate may be a major stumbling block, seeking to limit Biden’s choices to more centrist candidates.

What the Trump Administration is Doing

Given how incompetent and unethical it has been for the past four years, it should be no surprise that discussion of the Trump administration’s potential behavior during the transition is pessimistic, to say the least. He may pardon his pals, or seek to sabotage the incoming Biden administration. Lawfare and Just Security both published pieces in the past 24 hours raising concerns about the destruction of federal documents. In Just Security, Richard Painter muses about the destruction of documents that are “embarrassing, potentially incriminating or just useful to the ‘other side,’” and reminds the reader it is a crime to destroy such property.

But there may be bigger concerns- such as whether there will be much of a government at all in the coming days. Some Trump officials may leave imminently, and some may be fired as Donald Trump continues his downward spiral. Before the election, there were rumors of a purge. Defense Secretary Mark Esper is apparently prepared to be fired, and has reportedly prepared a letter of resignation. Other crucial agencies may be crippled by departures. The Health and Human Services department, crucial to whatever is left of the federal effort against the COVID19 pandemic, may soon see a mass exodus. As folks peel off, there may be some incredible revelations. Though not a member of the government, former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale is apparently writing a book, and others may seek to cash in and dish some dirt in the days ahead. The recriminations may get ugly.

Will There Be Blood

No matter what, don’t expect things to go well. Almost no one expects Donald Trump to come around. Maggie Haberman reckons he may never publicly concede, and he may refuse to even attend Biden’s inauguration, a time-honored tradition.

Indeed, it may all still get messy, even violent. The President, his family and some of his more extreme supporters are encouraging very bad behavior. Philadelphia police arrested two men who intended to disrupt the counting of ballots there earlier today- they apparently had AR-15s and Q Anon paraphernalia. Twitter banned Steve Bannon for calling for Dr. Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray to be beheaded, suggesting their heads should be placed on pikes outside the White House. Facebook shut down a group that had swelled to more than 300,000 members because of threats of violence related to false allegations of voter fraud, even as BuzzFeed reporters Ryan Mac and Craig Silverman published details of a disturbing internal Facebook metric for “violence and incitement” on the platform that is up 45% this week.

The coming days could be very challenging, especially if Republican leaders continue to either remain silent or stoke Donald Trump’s false claims about voter fraud. American Interregnum collaborator Melissa Ryan is tracking the growth of groups pushing this narrative, which she discussed with NPR’s Hannah Allam earlier today. Some of these groups are astroturfed, pushed by grifter right-wing political operatives, according to NBC News reporters Ben Collins and Brandy Zadrozny. Perhaps it will all peter out, and we’ll be left with just a few nutjobs yelling at no one in particular.

Driving the Conversation

Trump Won’t Accept Defeat. Ever. His forever campaign is just getting started. Anne Applebaum, The Atlantic.

“…even if Trump’s Hail Mary pass quickly fizzles, even if his attempt to stay in the White House is drowned out by the reality of the vote count and a tsunami of “Biden won” headlines, that doesn’t mean Trump will admit that the election was fair—ever. Even if Trump is forced to make a grudging concession speech, even if Biden is sworn in as president on January 20, even if the Trump family is forced to pack its Louis Vuitton suitcases and flee to Mar-a-Lago, it is in Trump’s interest, and a part of the Republican Party’s interest, to maintain the fiction that the election was stolen. That’s because the same base, the base that distrusts American democracy, could still be extremely useful to Trump, as well as to the Republican Party, in years to come.”

America’s Next Authoritarian Will Be Much More Competent. Zeynep Tufecki, The Atlantic.

The situation is a perfect setup, in other words, for a talented politician to run on Trumpism in 2024. A person without the eager Twitter fingers and greedy hotel chains, someone with a penchant for governing rather than golf. An individual who does not irritate everyone who doesn’t already like him, and someone whose wife looks at him adoringly instead of slapping his hand away too many times in public. Someone who isn’t on tape boasting about assaulting women, and who says the right things about military veterans. Someone who can send appropriate condolences about senators who die, instead of angering their state’s voters, as Trump did, perhaps to his detriment, in Arizona. A norm-subverting strongman who can create a durable majority and keep his coalition together to win more elections.  

Will the Democrats Ever Make Sense of This Week? Osita Nwanevu, New Republic.

Leaving aside the fact that Biden’s apparent victory is narrow enough that Trump very plausibly might have won absent the pandemic or with a different political strategy, the campaign did seemingly nothing whatsoever to help Democrats down ballot. The failure to produce a real legislative mandate, as nearly a quarter of a million Americans lie dead in a situation the president has plainly worsened and mismanaged, is a disturbing and catastrophic setback not only for progressives but for moderates telling themselves now that Biden’s personal qualities might cajole Senate Republicans into cooperating with him if Democrats fail to take the Senate in January. They will not.

If Joe Biden wins, he must play hardball against GOP obstruction. Here’s how. Paul Waldman, Washington Post.

The Vacancies Act sets out the rules for presidents to fill open positions, and as Jeff Hauser of the Revolving Door Project argues, it will give Biden all the power he needs. “Every president had relied on a version of the Vacancies Act to run the government,” Hauser told me. That’s because it permits the president to take any official who has been confirmed to another position, or any high-ranking and established civil servant already in the government, and use them to fill vacancies.

Take Action

On Saturday, November 7th, many cities will host rallies across the country to celebrate turning the page on Donald Trump’s presidency and to demand that the result of the election is respected. Find one near you.

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Your Moment of Distraction

Mind the NSFW audio if there are children about- but comedian Leslie Jones surely captures the Stockholm Syndrome we all feel towards cable news hosts this week:


American Interregnum is a pop-up newsletter covering the Presidential transition period from November 3rd, 2020 to January 21st, 2021. It is written and edited by Justin Hendrix, Greg Greene, and Melissa Ryan. Got questions or comments? We love your feedback. Reply directly to this email. We read all responses and respond to most.