CNN published an op-ed on Saturday by a former Obama administration official that calls for planning, including the military and a rebellion of states, should President Trump refuse to “peacefully” leave office if he loses his 2020 re-election bid and fails to accept the results. While the Obama official does not use the phrase “civil war”, it is the name for the rebellion of states and the military that he calls for if Trump will not “peacefully” hand over the reins of government on January 20,2021 following an election defeat. Curiously, the op-ed comes the day after a 2018 election for a Congressional seat in North Carolina was vacated due to fraud and a new election ordered to take place by the State Board of Elections.
The CNN op-ed, headlined, What If Trump Refuses to Accept Defeat in 2020?, is authored by Joshua A. Geltzer who served at the National Security Council for Obama’s last two years in office as the Obama administration abused the national security apparatus of the federal government to spy on the Trump campaign in order to thwart Trump’s election and, failing that, to then try to stop Trump’s inauguration and, failing that, to try to bring about his removal from office through impeachment or the 25th Amendment.
In his op-ed, Geltzer repeatedly raises the specter of Trump refusing to “peacefully” leave office. While not directly calling for force to remove Trump, he makes clear that violent means and a civil war will be needed with his repeated accusation that Trump will not leave office “peacefully.”
Geltzer promoted his op-ed on Twitter, “What if Donald Trump loses in 2020 but won’t leave the Oval Office peacefully? There’s real reason to worry. I offer via
@CNNOpinion four things we can do NOW to get ahead of this threat to our democracy:”
President Donald Trump’s critics are increasingly focused on the question of which Democrat will challenge him for the presidency in 2020. It’s an important question, but another one might be even more important: Regardless of who runs in 2020, if Trump loses, will he leave the Oval Office peacefully?
Let’s start with why we need to ask this question: Trump is increasingly proving himself to be a President eager to overstep his authority. Just last week, Trump displayed his willingness to invoke unprecedented presidential power to declare a national emergency utterly without justification. This week has brought a startling report from the New York Times that, for the past two years, Trump has tried to undermine the investigations by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and other parts of the Justice Department in order to, in the words of the Times, “make the president’s many legal problems go away.” In light of these overreaching assertions of his own authority, it’s at least plausible that Trump might attempt to cling to power in ways previously unimaginable by an American president.
…Remember, when Trump was merely a private citizen running for President in 2016, he became the first presidential candidate in recent memory to refuse to commit that he’d honor the results of the election if he lost. Now, he occupies the Oval Office. He’s the commander in chief of the most powerful military on Earth. If he even hints at contesting the election result in 2020, as he suggested he might in 2016, he’d be doing so not as an outsider but as a leader with the vast resources of the US government potentially at his disposal.
Geltzer covers four areas of government he believes can be used to stop Trump: The Electoral College, Congress, state governors and finally, the U.S. military. Geltzer does not mention the Supreme Court as an actor with a role to play.
…Thankfully, there are four key sets of governmental actors across the United States that can commit now to certain steps that would help to isolate President Trump should he refuse to hand over power peacefully.
Geltzer calls for Electoral College electors to “pledge that they will not withhold, delay or alter their vote based on the claims or protestations of any candidate, including President Trump.”
Geltzer calls for a similar pledge by Congress and for hearings attesting to the validity of a contested election:
…These senators and representatives should make a joint pledge not to delay or alter counting of the votes based on any candidate’s objections. Moreover, they should pledge to hold public hearings with intelligence community leaders should those officials or any candidate suggest that vote counts were influenced by foreign election interference or for any other reason. That unvarnished testimony by intelligence professionals could debunk any claims by Trump (or any other candidate) that the final vote count shouldn’t be honored.
It is here that Geltzer starts dancing toward supporting a civil war with his imploring state governors to rebel against a recalcitrant Trump:
…39 of America’s 50 state governors will not be up for reelection in 2020. They represent continuity in critical positions of leadership, and some command respect across party lines. Those 39 should band together now to make clear that they will serve, at least informally, as bastions of our democracy should a peaceful transfer of power look threatened by any candidate’s response to the election.
And finally, Geltzer calls in the troops:
…our civilian and uniformed Defense Department leaders have a role to play. The health of our democracy rests, in part, on not involving the military in transfers of power. And that should continue. But imagine the most extreme scenario, with Congress certifying Trump’s defeat but Trump refusing to leave office. In those circumstances, the military would no longer owe its loyalty to Donald Trump as of noon on January 20, 2021. And it’s worth asking the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as they testify before Congress in coming months, to affirm that they understand that and would act consistently with it.
Geltzer closes with:
These are dire thoughts. But we live in uncertain and worrying times. Perhaps, in 2016, Donald Trump never really intended to contest a loss at the ballot box. Still, having seen him in action as President, it’s surely best, as we hurtle toward 2020, to be prepared in case President Trump makes good on his threats from 2016 — now with far more power at his disposal.
Geltzer’s bio from Georgetown Law:
Joshua Geltzer serves as the founding Executive Director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection as well as Visiting Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center. He is also an ASU Future of War Fellow at New America.
Geltzer served from 2015 to 2017 as Senior Director for Counterterrorism at the National Security Council staff, having served previously as Deputy Legal Advisor to the National Security Council and as Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for National Security at the U.S. Department of Justice. He also served as a law clerk to Justice Stephen Breyer of the U.S. Supreme Court and, before that, as a law clerk to Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Geltzer received his J.D. from Yale Law School, where he served as editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal, and his PhD in War Studies from King’s College London, where he was a Marshall Scholar. Before that, he attended Princeton University, majoring in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
He is the author of US Counter-Terrorism Strategy and al-Qaeda: Signalling and the Terrorist World-View, published by Routledge; and his work has appeared in The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, Parameters, Politico, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, the Journal of Constitutional Law, the Berkeley Journal of International Law, and the Washington Post.