Articles about the possibility of Trump refusing to leave office after a November defeat are seemingly everywhere. Bill Maher, on his HBO show, Real Time, has been warning about this scenario for some time. And now, after Trump’s interview with Fox’s Chris Wallace, we have renewed interest in the possibility that Trump might hole up in the White House after being voted out on Election Day.
“I have to see,” Trump answered Wallace’s direct question as to whether he will “accept the results of the election” win or lose.
Here’s the thing. It is not up to Trump to accept or reject the election results.
If he loses the vote, Trump will no longer be president as of January 20, 2021. Because the president immediately and automatically surrenders his constitutional authority when his term expires, he would lack the power to direct the U.S. Secret Service or other federal authorities to protect him.
Sure, if Trump could get away with refusing to leave the Oval Office, he undoubtedly would try. But he can’t.
Fred Kaplan, in an article for Slate.com, clearly explains what would happen after a Trump defeat:
On the dot of noon [January 20, 2021], the nuclear codes, which currently allow Trump to order and authenticate a nuclear attack, expire. The officer who has been following him around everywhere with the “football”—which, contrary to popular belief, is not a button or a palm print but rather a book filled with various launch codes—leaves. If Trump and whatever lackeys stay with him prevent the officer from leaving, another officer, holding a backup football, would join Biden at the inauguration ceremony.
By the same token, the entire U.S. military establishment will pivot away from ex-President Trump and salute President Biden. The principle of civilian control is hammered into American officers from the time they’re cadets—and the 20thAmendment of the Constitution states, “The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January”—no ifs, ands, or buts.
If Trump orders the military to do anything, they will refuse his order. If any officers obey his order—say, to circle the White House to keep him in power—they would certainly be tried and convicted on charges of mutiny and sedition, and they would know this before taking the leap.
Meanwhile, the Secret Service will abandon Trump, as they do every president whose term is up, except for a small detail assigned to protect him and his family for the rest of their lives.
Overseas, foreign leaders will cut off relations with the U.S. ambassadors in their capitals and await instructions from Biden or his acting secretary of state.
Meanwhile, Biden’s acting attorney general will have drawn up arrest warrants for Donald J. Trump and anyone who remains at his side on charges—at minimum—of criminal trespassing. If Trump calls on the armed forces or militias or the nation’s sheriffs to come defend him, he might also be charged with incitement or insurrection.
Yes, there are a lot of things to worry about each day Trump remains in the White House (especially between a November defeat and a January inauguration). But his refusing to leave office after a loss is not one of them.
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