Don’t leave this election’s results up to the lawyers

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Election Day is coming, and we may not know who the president is for days, weeks or months after. If public polls are remotely correct, more Americans will cast ballots for Joe Biden than Donald Trump, but the president has set the stage for confusion to reign afterward. Using voter intimidation, presidential powers and unconventional means by political allies, maybe he could eke out something he can claim as a win.  

That chaos would require lawyers to fight hard to win cases that ensure all ballots are counted, but lawyering won’t be enough. If Democrats learned anything from the 2000 recount, don’t leave the fight up to the lawyers.

Trump is a failed Atlantic City casino owner who became a reality TV star. He knows drama, bullying and how to use leverage against people and systems to get his way. We apparently have yet to see a depth to which he will not stoop. He busts norms. He lies about things we have seen with our own eyes. Fighting back will require full-spectrum combat in an augmented reality environment.

I was a Gore-Lieberman spokesman in West Palm Beach during the 2000 recount. Big decisions were made in Nashville and Tallahassee. We were the grunts on the ground who set up press conferences, briefed reporters, and managed the circus that grew up around dimpled chads and butterfly ballots.

Our marching orders for the first weeks were to try to impose order on the craziness. There was a process to follow that would lead to a result America could respect. We used local politicians and lawyers to argue the case. We purposefully kept away national surrogates who might make the process too political. We were wrong.

On the other hand, Republicans used the premature Fox News declaration that George W. Bush had won on election night as the hook upon which to hang their argument. They beat the drum that Democrats were trying to steal the election from Bush because Al Gore and Joe Lieberman were sore losers. They even had signs made up with the Gore campaign logo that read “Sore-Loserman.”

They sent political luminaries from the era to argue their case. In West Palm Beach, we countered New York Gov. George Pataki and Ohio Attorney General Ken Blackwell, the highest ranking Black Republican official at the time, with local county commissioners and state senators. No way could we compete with the national media attention the Republicans received. Soon it was clear that we had to change course and use national voices such as former Reps. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.) and Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), then-Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and others. But it was too late. The narrative was set.

While the Democratic side tried desperately to impose order, Republicans stoked the lunacy. They famously unleashed a number of Washington politicos to disrupt the Miami-Dade County election office in a televised “Brooks Brothers riot.” Their purpose was to convince Americans this madness was no way to pick a president — and it worked.

If chaos erupts this time, Democrats must mount a fight for control of the narrative online, on camera and in the streets. The way that Democrats keep that combat from becoming physical is to employ a few asymmetrical tactics. Expect Republican militias to mount up in public, the way militia members did in Michigan with their failed plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. If they surround state capitols with long guns to intimidate legislators, faith leaders should send in prayer warriors. Choir members singing hymns and clergy armed with holy books facing off with guerilla-clad militias would send shudders through the consciences of suburban-based politicians. The Rev. Leah Daughtry and Barbara Williams-Skinner are organizing faith leaders. Let’s see what they come up with.

Groups such as Protect the Results are already mobilizing protests and public actions for the days after Nov. 3. Students, Women’s March participants and Black Lives Matter protesters who have infrastructure built to activate networks of thousands should stand ready to take the streets and control public spaces.

On television, pundits should push aggressively. This is no time for both sides-isms. If Trump is the usurper, the sower of chaos, the chiller of ballot-counting, everyone else is on the side of justice and democracy. There can be no middle ground.  

Nothing less than the future of our democracy is at stake. Let the lawyers do their jobs and the rest of the country should support them online, on camera and in the streets.

Jamal Simmons is a Democratic campaign strategist, CBS News analyst and hosts #ThisisFYI on Instagram and Facebook. Follow him on Twitter @JamalSimmons.

Tags 2000 election recount 2020 presidential election Al Gore Charlie Rangel Democratic Party Donald Trump Gretchen Whitmer Joe Biden peaceful transfer of power Sherrod Brown

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