Hey, remember that Inquirer Live event from a couple of weeks ago, about the 2020 election? It was so much fun that we’re doing it again THIS FRIDAY (10/30) at 11 a.m., and this time I’m going to have two incredible guests: Margaret Sullivan, the media columnist for the Washington Post, and Brandon Evans, a Philly-based political operative who’s worked with DA Larry Krasner and Mayor Jim Kenney and has now co-authored The Count guide on dealing with a contested election result. That’s the topic of Friday’s event — How America Can Survive the Days After the 2020 Election — and you’ll want to sign up early. Meanwhile, did someone forward you this email? Sign up to receive this newsletter weekly at inquirer.com/bunch — and then sign up for Inquirer Live.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Next week is a special week for America and The Will Bunch Newsletter, so we’re going to mix it up a little. On Tuesday’s Election Day, you’ll get a very short note from me on how to follow the breaking news through The Inquirer, and also a reminder to check your inbox next WEDNESDAY for a special edition of the newsletter, with instant analysis of the early returns.
In the presidential election of 2000, with the future of the United States hanging by the chads of a contested presidential vote count, the Democrats essentially brought a knife to a gunfight, and lost.
That piece of very recent history looms large over a new 40-page guide authored by three leading progressive activists entitled, simply, The Count, that lays out the stakes and the potential critical dates if President Trump tries to thwart the election process once the 2020 vote counting begins on November 3. Twenty years ago, their report notes, the GOP used any means necessary, including public protests, to push for a victory for George W. Bush, while Democrats took a timid approach and hoped for the best in the courts.
“This time, Democrats need to be prepared to play hardball: If Trump tries to overturn the results of the election, 2020 will no longer be an election between two candidates," write authors Zack Malitz, Brandon Evans and Becky Bond. “It will be an all-out war between the American people and a would-be autocrat seeking to destroy our country. Democrats must be prepared to use all the legal tools at their disposal to ensure that the election results reflect the will of the people.”
The report’s authors are all top officials with Real Justice PAC, which normally focuses on electing progressive prosecutors like Philadelphia’s Larry Krasner. Their effort is heavily based on this summer’s Transition Integrity Project, which conducted “war games” to play out what could happen in a closely contested election in which the incumbent president has already questioned the process and is likely to make troubling, unsubstantiated allegations of fraud. Some scenarios even saw a contested election lasting beyond the scheduled January 20 inauguration.
Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, and the threats to U.S. democracy that experts see in a disputed outcome, have inspired layers of planning that didn’t exist when Al Gore lost the Florida recount in 2000. Indeed, nationwide ad hoc groups like Stand Up America and other progressive allies, including a large coalition here in Philadelphia, say they’ll hit the streets as early as November 4 if Trump appears to have lost but is refusing to concede or is challenging the results.
The Count’s co-author Evans, a political operative who’s run campaigns here in Philadelphia for both Krasner and Mayor Kenney, said Trump’s behavior has already made it clear that Democrats need more than a traditional plan of simply registering and turning out their voters and hoping for the best. “When somebody is really talking about undermining the election,” Evans told me on Monday, “believe them.”
Their report does two important things. The first is to lay out a clear timetable of the key dates in a contested election for certifying the votes and a winning slate of presidential electors, and what could happen in state capitals and in Congress if that process is challenged. It makes clear the assigned responsibilities for governors and state lawmakers under the sometimes vague framework of the Constitution and subsequent election laws, so that everyday citizens will better understand when and where to apply pressure if needed.
The second, and arguably more important, focus of The Count is to urge citizens to take to the streets early and loudly at any signs that Trump or the Republican Party are taking steps to shut down the vote count or otherwise steal the election, and to make clear that Democratic officials, such as governors in key states like Pennsylvania or Wisconsin, need to stand firm. It even urges Democrats to aggressively challenge the legitimacy of the Supreme Court if new, hastily confirmed Justice Amy Coney Barrett joins conservative colleagues to hand Trump a legally dubious victory.
“If Democrats act like legal scholars while Republicans fight a guerilla war to make Trump the president at any cost," the guide warns, “Democrats will risk losing a presidency despite winning the majority of electoral votes at the polls.” It urges Joe Biden to declare victory as early as possible (assuming he is indeed winning) and Democrats to use their advantage in a new Congress to fight an illegitimate result, even if the process goes beyond January 20 and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi becomes the 46th president, at least for a time.
“Why would you tie one of your hands behind your back?” Evans asked rhetorically. “Whether it’s organizing in the streets or asking Democratic office holders and politicians to hold the line, it’s all hands on deck. You can’t expect someone to trust the institutions that they (Trump and the Republicans) regularly bulldoze.”
Evans and others agree that one way to mitigate the post-election chaos would be a landslide of votes for Biden, which would make it much harder for Trump to claim fraud. But The Count’s authors aren’t counting on that happening, and neither should we. That’s why I’ve invited both Evans and Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan, who’s written eloquently about the role media can play in the 11/3 aftermath, to join me Friday for a special Inquirer Live conversation online. Sign up, and we’ll see you there.
You can’t take a night off in 2020 — not even for something as momentous as your son’s 26th birthday. Sated with takeout gourmet Chinese and something called donut cake (don’t ask), I finally checked back in on the news and felt my blood pressure rise about 40 points. In Washington, I saw President Trump waving from a White House balcony with his — and I mean HIS — new Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, symbolizing that the politicization and degrading of America’s highest court is now completed. Much more closer to home and possibly more disturbing, I saw that the streets of West Philadelphia were on fire, with hundreds of angry citizens throwing bottles, setting cop cars on fire, and otherwise venting their rage over the rapid-fire police killing of a troubled 27-year-old man with a knife named Walter Wallace Jr.
The people of Philadelphia have every right to be mad. I am furious over what happened on Locust Street after Wallace’s mother had called 911 over a disturbance in which her son was brandishing that knife. Like most American cities, Philadelphia didn’t dispatch trained mental-health specialists to such a scene, but two armed police officers. When the cops approached with guns drawn, according to family members and witnesses who spoke with my Inquirer colleagues, Wallace ran and his mother screamed yelling something along the lines of, “Don’t shoot him, he’s gonna put it down, we know him!” Instead, evidence on the scene and a video suggest the two officers fired at least a dozen times, killing Wallace. The senseless shooting and the subsequent unrest are a reminder that Philadelphia and America have done next to nothing to respond to the massive protest movement that erupted this spring after Minneapolis police kneeled on George Floyd’s neck and killed him. If Mayor Kenney, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and other Philadelphia leaders cannot rapidly change our broken ways of public safety, there will be no justice — and, thus, no peace.