One of the paradoxes of political action is that even once you have an office with formal power and a mandate to govern, it is extremely difficult to get people theoretically “on your side” to do something. In fact, it’s often difficult to figure out who precisely your guys are – in a country of 330 million people and millions of civil servants, soldiers, etc, it’s near impossible to figure out at what point someone lied about their allegiances or their intention to follow directives, assuming they even purported to be in your coalition to begin with, and the lines of communication must by necessity fan out so broadly that by the time they hit the man on the ground, they have become garbled and open to interpretation.
So implicit communication and consensus-building is the norm. There is no Fuhrerprinzip in American politics, even on the left (although they come much closer) – no one on top calling the shot and having the result recursively trickle down uninterrupted to the local post office. The closest we get is the pattern where People Who Must Be Paid Attention make a grand pronouncement, and then a distributed consensus emerges about What Did They Mean By This.
(A much more common way of operating is a kind of middle-out consensus building where, eg, a bunch of academics meets to get their story straight about what’s wrong with homeschooling and translate that into both modes of action by your friendly local CPS and school district goons, and legislative action by your local school boards and legislatures. That is a story for another time.)
The primary Person Who Must Be Paid Attention is the walking Schelling point, Donald J. Trump. The time and place where he can reach the most of his supporters is the best 90 minutes of American political combat theater in memory: September 29th’s debate. What did he do?
It was obvious that there was no attempt to reach out to the “moderates” or “undecided” (which is to say, incapacitated or oblivious). Trump came in with knives out ready for blood, and managed to bullycide both the moderator and Joe Biden, with the latter resorting to feckless “gimme a break, man” wow-just-wow incredulity and outright lies about his cokehead son’s bagman antics. The most telling moment in discerning this strategy is when Trump boasted about his hundreds of judicial appointments and soon to be three Supreme Court appointments – this is not something oblivious “undecideds” even understand the significance of, but it is raw red meat to the GOP base.
The other thing his base wants to see is Owning The Libs – continual interruptions aren’t designed to win rhetorical points on Facts and Logic, but to demean the opponent, make clear Biden’s incapacity for tough leadership, and ideally trigger a meltdown (which ultimately did not happen). You do not actually need to speak English to discern what was going on – and in fact, you might figure it out quicker if you don’t.
OK, so Trump is trying to drive his own side’s turnout, Biden defaults to the “every warm body please vote early and often” strategy the left traditionally goes with, and no one cares what some politically unreliable “both sides make some good points” centrist ends up coin-flipping to. Ordinarily this would be sufficient exposition and we could halt the analysis there. But what is interesting is the extent to which Trump apparently expects the “election” to go post-political. I frankly don’t think Biden “expects” anything, in terms of executive brain function, but surely his team has a strategy and it seems to entail an identical set of predictions.
The scenario everyone on the left and right keeps talking about is that Trump ends election day proper with a fairly large lead, which is “corrected” by a flood of harvested mail-in ballots. Democratic lawyers will sue to have every scrap of paper that comes through the door by December interpreted as being spiritually if not physically a Biden vote (something something 14th amendment, of course), GOP lawyers will sue to invalidate them. But there is no cure for hundreds of physically valid but fraudulently procured, or illegally discarded, ballots. There is no legal remedy for Democratic operatives casting hundreds of ballots on behalf of the various Mohammed Mohammeds, birthday January 1st.
In light of this, Trump’s request earlier in the debate that evil racist right wingers “stand back and stand by” becomes far more ominous – and one could interpret it, if we’re back to the thesis that Trump turns into a 4D Warhammer tactical genius during election years, as being designed to spread. Libs will wow-just-wow at it and endlessly replay the quote over stale Charlottesville footage during campaign ads, but this is not a bad thing from Trump’s perspective.
The left has spent the last four years memeing Trump into a fascist tyrant, and going out of their way to ensure that despite his fairly moderate governing style, he personally has little to lose by actually pushing the envelope. What, are they going to call him Double Hitler now? But the moment he leaves office, he and his family will be sued, subpoenaed, indicted, and railroaded by every blue DA in the country. Biden de facto promised to pack the Supreme Court, and Kamala Harris has promised to rule by executive order to an even greater extent than Obama did. There is no prospect for GOP (to say nothing of their nationalist wing) electoral victory post 2020 if Trump loses. If he does lose, no frauds no matter how blatant will be prosecuted, so there is every incentive for Democrats to push it to the limit (just imagine ballots in those sacks instead of Jacksons, but expect the location to be identical).
Thus Trump’s obvious counter-strategy is one of escalation – the maximum deployment of the resources he can muster to prevent this or make it irrelevant, and more importantly, preparing those resources to be used when he asks for them.
Between now and mid-November his rhetorical appeals to his supporters will become more explicit, and he will emphasize more and more his affinity with military, police, and paramilitaries. At some point someone is going to realize that you can’t count fraudulent ballots if it’s impossible for the local elections board to count any more ballots, at which point their latest result is frozen until the deadline. The GOP realized this on a relatively small scale in Florida in 2000 (cf the “Brooks Brothers Riot”); this isn’t a hard thing to extrapolate to its logical conclusion.
Trump himself summed it up best: “This is not going to end well.”