If you thought President Trump was working on his 2020 re-election, O naïf, you thought wrong. His gaze is focused further: 2024. 2028. 2032. 2036? (One assumes the man is mortal.)
His desire for a third term in office is a favorite theme of Trump's. "When you leave office — I hope in five years, nine years, 13 years, 17 years, 21 years, 25 years, 29 years — when I leave office — now, I'm only doing that to drive them totally crazy," he mused to cheers at a rally in Pennsylvania this week, pointing at members of the media. "That drives them crazy. Even joking about it."
Trump did the same bit a few days prior, declaring a lot of his "stupid" media critics "say, 'you know he's not leaving' ... So now we have to start thinking about that, because it's not a bad idea." Apparently taking the joke a step further, former Republican Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee announced Thursday on Twitter that he'd explain on Fox News how Trump "will be eligible for a third term due to the illegal attempts by [former FBI Director James] Comey, Dems, and media, et al attempting to oust him" — and adding that he, Huckabee, has already been "named to head up the 2024 re-election."
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I realize I risk being grouped among the "stupid" media by even addressing this, but it catches my attention every time it comes up, mainly because I can remember exactly the same fears about former President Barack Obama. In fact, sometime during Obama's first term, I remember talking to an older, conservative relative who insisted with complete sincerity that Obama would refuse to leave office when his second term was over.
My relative was absolutely certain Obama would not consent to a normal, peaceful transfer of power, and he was far from the only one. This paranoia popped up pretty much where you'd expect to find it, including on the Alex Jones Radio Show in 2012 and from Rush Limbaugh in 2014. A satirical news site's report that "President Obama confirms he will refuse to leave office if Trump is elected" made the rounds on Facebook in 2016, and another one was widely shared shortly before Trump's inauguration.
Though Obama did once remark that he thought himself popular enough to win a third term were he allowed to run, he also said he wouldn't want it, never repeatedly entertaining the idea before adoring supporters as Trump is wont to do. And when 2017 rolled around, far from trying to hold onto the Oval Office, Obama bounced out of Washington as quickly as possible, repairing to the Virgin Islands for watersports with Richard Branson.
Trump insists he's joking about his own perpetual presidency, but the frequency with which he envisions it is unnerving. "The situations all seem far-fetched," Politico reported this past summer, "but the president's comments have people chattering in the halls of Congress and throughout the Beltway." Granted, that the president himself is providing the speculation about a third term distinguishes the situation from the Obama years. And I'll equally grant that, absent the Constitution's presidential term limit, Trump would keep running.
But take a moment to seriously consider the prospect. How would it work? How would he cancel the 2024 election (especially when you consider that elections, even federal elections, are run by the 50 states, not the executive branch)? And how would he stay in office? Like, physically, how would he do it? Do we really imagine the Secret Service is going to barricade the White House for him? That the military would conduct an actual coup on his behalf? Trump's disapproval rating among active-duty troops has been steadily climbing and is now close to that of the population at large — and it is quite a leap to say that the minority of military members who do back his presidency support it so much they're willing to violently abrogate the Constitution, functionally initiating civil war, on his behalf. So, seriously, how could he do it? Is there a plausible scenario here? I don't see it any more than I saw it with Obama.
What is plausible, however, is that our infamously litigious president would go to court to contest a loss in 2020. "All candidates have a right to contest results in federal court," Jonathan Turley of George Washington University Law School told Politico in June. "It's not up to the candidate to decide if an election is valid. It's not based on their satisfaction or consent. They have every right to seek judicial review."
Yet even then, remember: Elections happen in the states. Trump would have to mount a separate challenge in every state whose results he questioned, and there are legal time limits for when this can be done. Challenging the 2020 results would be an enormous undertaking; it would have to be accomplished quickly; and, to change anything, it would require convincing proof of election corruption. It is, in short, unlikely to succeed (though that is not necessarily enough to keep Trump from trying).
In the meantime, Trump's third-term trolling is indefensible and irresponsible. It needs to stop. He should never say a word on this subject again. Still, this is one constitutional stricture I'm confident Trump won't be able to violate.
There is no Trump 2024 campaign — at least not for Donald Sr.
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