Trump Could Defy Election Defeat. But He Needs Accomplices

President Donald Trump's powers to dispute the election results if Democratic candidate Joe Biden is victorious in November may hinge upon whether allies support such a challenge.

Asked on Sunday, the president would not confirm whether or not he would accept the results of November's election.

This has prompted backlash from Democratic lawmakers, with his behavior branded dictatorial, and calls for people to prepare to take action should he refuse to accept the results.

Trump's remarks came after the president's frequent attacks on mail-in voting, which he has suggested—without evidence—could undermine November's outcome.

Laurence H. Tribe, the Carl M. Loeb University Professor and Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard, told Newsweek Trump's comments prompted him to "worry more than ever before that the 240-year history of peaceful successions of administrations might not hold this time and that the American experiment is in the gravest danger it has faced since the Civil War."

Tribe suggested that if the results were certified by Congress, and all prior contests had been resolved, on January 6 that Trump would thereafter need to enlist allies "in order to exercise anything resembling real power."

This would require asking cabinet officers for support, who would have to be "willing to risk criminal prosecution and conviction by the properly certified incoming federal administration."

He bases this around the notion the president cannot run the executive branch without assistance, while others are barred from using its authorities at the behest of anyone other than the legitimate president—with the threat of criminal prosecution should they choose to.

Tribe said while that offers some protection in that scenario, it does not prevent Trump posing challenges along the way.

President Donald Trump speaks to the press in the Oval Office at the White House after receiving a briefing on July 15, 2020. He has sparked a backlash after not confirming if he would support the election result. Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

"That offers some solace but it doesn't offer much protection against the extremes to which Trump might go in stirring doubt about which slates of electors properly represent various swing states, or who actually won the electoral college vote on December 14, or about any number of other things along the way to a final resolution by the new Congress sworn in on January 3," he said.

Michael Gerhardt, a constitutional law professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, told Newsweek that if Trump were to dispute the results he would not have the backing of any federal law in order to not concede a loss.

"There is no federal law that he could claim to be enforcing in refusing to concede the results," he said.

Gerhardt, who gave expert testimony at the House Judiciary Committee impeachment inquiry in 2019, suggested Trump's way to pursue action could then be through the courts.

"He could file a lawsuit, but courts would likely expedite the case and rule against him unless he could show, as George W. Bush did back in 2000, that there was some fraud or abuse that resulted in votes being denied him or votes unlawfully given to Biden," he said.

In regards to suggestions Trump might not support the result, Gerhardt added: "It is a threat that undoubtedly appeals to his base, but it is a threat to refuse to abide by the law, not the first or last that he has made as president."

Describing circumstances Trump could extend his time in the White House in the face of a defeat, he said: "He could not extend his time in office unless one of three things happens: The electoral college results are not certified in the House, a majority of the electoral college votes for Trump, or he wins the lawsuit.

"There are examples of each of these in American history: The House decided the 1820 presidential election for JQ Adams and not Jackson who had won a plurality of votes; the electoral college ended up voting for Rutherford B. Hayes and not Samuel Tilden in 1876 after an independent commission resolved contested votes; and George W. Bush won the presidency in 2000 after winning his lawsuit to confirm the contested results in Florida."

Richard Johnson, a lecturer in U.S. politics and international relations at the U.K.'s Lancaster University, similarly suggested that the president take legal action and sue different state's secretaries of state should he disagree with the verification of results.

He also suggested pressure could be put on such officials in a bid to push back against results, while there is also the potential for members of the House to object to certifying the Electoral College result.

"There's room for mischief along the way," Johnson said.

However, Johnson also suggested that Trump would need backers in order to mount challenge.

"It's not so much whether he's got the willingness to do it," he said.

"It's whether or not the people around him will go along with it or not.

"You might like to think these people might be a check on him, but a lot of people have facilitated him.

"I think if there's a way to make the argument, I'm sure he'll find support.

"I think people should be gearing up for the possibility of challenge."

Trump's comments come with Biden holding a steady polling lead ahead of November, including the advantage in several key states.

FiveThirtyEight's average of national polls gave Biden an 8.8 point lead over Trump as of July 18.

Newsweek has contacted the White House and the Trump campaign for comment as to what action he might take should he dispute the results.