A way out of Trump’s continuing crisis: a President Pence
Despite President Trump’s decision to permit Joe Biden to begin preparing for a presidential transition, his persistent questioning of the integrity of the election and ongoing refusal to concede keeps the country in a most precarious situation.
One way out of this quagmire is for Trump to resign in protest over election irregularities and to inaugurate Vice President Mike Pence to carry out the duties of the president until Jan. 20, 2021.
An attentive follower of Rudy Giuliani’s press conferences has much to be concerned about with respect to voting errors, malfeasance and missing ballots — despite the campaigns failure to provide any evidence of such. While most journalists and national media organizations have called the presidential election for Biden and largely dismissed any notions of a rigged or corrupted election, that doesn’t mean much for Trump. He has raised concerns about media bias for years and made numerous unfounded predictions of election fraud in the weeks and months before Election Day. He also has good reason to be concerned about vacating his office while federal and state investigations continue to threaten him and his close family members with imprisonment.
He is not alone in such a fear, national political leaders globally are routinely arrested and thrown in jail after leaving office, creating a perverse incentive for presidents and prime ministers to further abrogate the law and illegitimately remain in office. Recent examples abound, Kosovo to Papua New Guinea to the Ivory Coast, where former leaders have all been arrested in the last year.
In the coming weeks, as states will certify their election results and Electoral College electors will cast their ballots on Dec. 14, we can expect to see an official, unequivocal win for Biden. But it’s going to be a rough ride until then and in the unlikely event that the Electoral College system fails, we face the unprecedented possibility of an unpeaceful transition of power. Trump likely does not want that to happen. He likely wants to leave office gracefully, preserve our 233 year old democracy and protect himself and his family from prosecution.
By resigning now, Trump need not concede the election. He can continue, on his own and through his surrogates, to challenge the results, attempting to sway state election officials, woo electors, but all while Pence serves as president. During this short term as leader of the free world, Pence can use his executive authority to direct federal law enforcement agencies to terminate all investigations and judicial proceedings against Trump and his family. While Trump has his critics — who would love to see him behind bars — it is not the kind of precedent we want to set for our country. Despite his many foibles, Trump has served our country over four years and a proactive pardon by Pence would be a fair part of the healing process for our deeply divided nation.
If the ultimate outcome from the Electoral College vote and final resolution of any court cases is a victory for Trump, then he can return to his office triumphant on Jan. 20. If not, he can begin to plan his next chapter in life and rest assured that he is safe from arrest.
This resignation plan would be the best outcome for Biden, as well. With Pence as president, we can expect a more orderly transition and support for an incoming Biden administration. We can also have greater confidence in the integrity of the entire election system with Pence in charge, further bolstering Biden’s legitimacy should he prevail, as expected, in the Electoral College vote.
Justin B. Hollander is a professor at Tufts University where he teaches public policy and planning.