Will Trump go Rogue or Defendant before Inauguration Day?

Now that Donald Trump and his team have exhausted most legal avenues to challenge the result of the US presidential election and that the Electoral College has voted for Joe Biden with a clear and expected majority, a lot of commentators assume that it’s over for Trump and that apart from voicing his dissent there is not much he can do. Thus, it is widely expected that the remaining 16 days of Trump’s term in office will be an inconsequential lame duck period that will end in a peaceful transition of power.

While I very much hope that this will be the case, I believe it is too early to relax. As I pointed out back in February 2020 during the Munich Security Conference, in the case of a Biden win, the period between Election Day and Inauguration Day is the most volatile in terms of Trump’s most violent supporters turning to violence and also for Trump to possibly abuse his position as Commander-in-Chief to attempt to hold on to power or at least create major issues for the incoming Biden administration.

Due to the Senate runoff elections in Georgia on 5 January 2021, the volatile period has been effectively postponed to 6-20 January, because Trump and his supporters realize that any worst case scenario radical steps such as violence in the streets or war with Iran (and possibly the use of nuclear weapons, a state of emergency with troops in the streets and Posse Comitatus Act de facto abolished) may depress Republican turnout and fire up Democratic voters in Georgia.

So until 5 January, the priority of Republicans, Trump and his supporters is to prevent Democratic control of the Senate by focusing on winning in Georgia.

On the other hand, starting on 6 January, we may also well see more prominent Republicans distance themselves from Trump.

After all, his appeal is very likely to be diminished relatively quickly once he leaves office, due to the stigma of having lost the election, his lawsuits and scandals from his political, business and private life, revelations about his financial situation and taxes, blocked access to Fox News, Twitter and other social media, radically diminshed manpower and media presence, etc.

For the runoff elections in Georgia, the support of Trump’s base is crucial for Republicans and there was no time to create another political leader besides Trump for them within weeks. But the GOP will certainly do so for the Midterm elections in 2 years and there are a number of Republican politicians already vying for this position. Some more openly, some less, but there is no shortage of candidates. Virtually all of them are much less prone to scandal than Trump, which is a big upside.

One of the Republican hopefuls for succeeding Trump certainly is VPOTUS Mike Pence. And especially if Trump does not go completely rogue in his last days in office and chooses a maximum risk scenario for himself and his followers, he may focus instead on his future precarious position as defendant in lawsuits and opt to step down from office before January 20 e.g. „due to health issues“ so that Pence my succeed him and grant him a more legally watertight Presidential pardon than he could grant himself (which, however, once in office Pence may choose not to grant). That way, not only would he be better protected from prosecution for federal crimes he may have committed, but he could also avoid criticism for not being present during the Inauguration and not having handed over the office graciously to the Bidens, because then-President Pence would do it. Simultaneously, he could legitimately claim towards his die-hard supporters that he never handed over the White House to Democrats.

There is also a lot in this scenario for Pence:

As a contender for the Republican nomination in future presidential elections, especially 2024, he would be the only one with the right to be addressed as „Mr. President“, a right he would keep for life. He would also be able to speak from albeit short, but nevertheless real experience of how it is to be Commander-in-Chief, in control of the „nuclear football“ and having federal executive power as well as the responsibility that comes with it. This may be the very factor that could clinch him the nomination down the road.

Last but not least he would go down in history as the 46th President of the United States who handed over power graciously to Joe Biden, the 47th President. (Sorry to all those who already bought „Biden 46“ articles…) And he would retain the possibility to serve 2 more full terms afterwards as well.

Regardless of whether Trump goes for the Rogue or the Defendant scenario, we may yet be in for a rather eventful and revealing 2 remaining weeks between the Georgia runoff elections and Inauguration Day.