The US election could now go one of three ways – but Donald Trump won't accept defeat
WHAT if Donald Trump and Joe Biden both show up in Washington on January 20 to be sworn in as President?
It’s an American nightmare made more possible by Mr Trump’s positive Covid test.
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For Trump, defeat next month is not an option.
Even before the virus struck the President, he suggested he won’t concede if the election result goes against him.
In August he said: “The only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election.”
That was a reference to the huge postal vote expected this year due to the pandemic deterring voting in person.
On election night, if he is ahead on that day’s votes, it’s expected he will immediately claim victory.
Then, if a few days later the postal votes shift victory to Mr Biden, Trump will launch a series of convoluted legal challenges to it.
Postal vote discrepancies are easy to find — for example, shortening your name can make the vote invalid, as can a slight change in a signature.
Trump has already assembled an army of top lawyers to begin preparing the ground.
Biden has warned that if Trump refuses to leave office, the proper authorities “will escort him from the White House with great dispatch”.
But that brings the question — Biden and who’s army? The President is the Commander in Chief of the military, but who’s the President?
Now Covid has laid Trump low, if he loses he can further argue that the election was unfair because his high-energy campaign ground to a halt.
There are several legal scenarios in which neither candidate gives way — all the way up to the swearing-in ceremony amid an explosive atmosphere.
By January, the sort of street violence we have recently seen in US cities could easily erupt as pro and anti-Trump demonstrators clash, each claiming they are fighting for democracy.
This summer we saw President Trump deploy the National Guard and it is plausible he would call on them again if things turn violent.
There are two ways to avoid these scenarios. An absolute landslide victory for one of them, or one concedes defeat.
How the election could be hit
SCENARIO ONE: Donald Trump will temporarily hand over his presidential powers if he becomes medically incapacitated from catching Covid-19.
The US constitution allows for the transfer under the 25th Amendment, with his Vice-President Mike Pence taking control.
The rule also allows for his forcible removal if he is too ill to make decisions. The Vice-President, with the Cabinet or senior Congressmen, can intervene.
SCENARIO TWO: If the US President has to remain in hospital for some time but recovers in time for last-minute campaigning, it could boost his chances of re-election.
Voters could even show some sympathy towards Trump if he recovers from coronavirus. He could benefit from pushing a tougher line on China, who he has repeatedly blamed for spreading Covid, after being directly affected.
He may also want to delay the election by a few weeks. But he would have to get agreement from the Democrats.
SCENARIO THREE: If Mr Trump is back at work full-time in a short space of time, he could paint himself as someone who has beaten the coronavirus.
As a 74-year-old man in a higher-risk group, it could give him the excuse to put rocket boosters under the US economy.
But he will not be able to get back the time spent in swing states where opponent Joe Biden is leading in the polls. And in the coming days, there will be accusations he has badly mishandled the virus crisis.
The latter seems unlikely. After the 2000 election, Al Gore challenged George Bush’s victory in the courts but then conceded “for the sake of our unity as a people”.
The Democratic Party is in no such mood in 2020.
As Trump warned last week, “This is not going to end well.”
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