The short answer on the headline proposition is that Trump shouldn’t make a commitment whose terms will be defined later by the media and his Democratic opponents.
There is no definition in law of a “peaceful transfer of power.” There are constitutional requirements for the transfer of power, which most people have in mind when they hear those words. But you could steam an aircraft carrier through the gaping holes in detail – in how those requirements are to be satisfied – that the Democrats are working overtime to widen as the year 2020 progresses.
If we all knew exactly what criteria the media will be strictly limited to having in mind, when or if they start demanding a “peaceful transfer of power” after the election, that would be one thing.
But we have no such common certainty. If you imagine you know for sure what the criteria will be, you haven’t been paying attention.
The Democrats – along with anti-Trump “conservatives” – have already held a “war game” (see here as well) in which they framed all the election-related actions of the Trump administration with extreme prejudice, and then used their war game assumptions (not developments or lessons from the game, but prior assumptions) to justify tearing America apart between election day and the inauguration.
But that was only after the Democrats had previously launched a campaign across the country to get ballots mass-mailed by the states to everyone on a voter roll (or conceivably on a voter roll; e.g., deceased pets whose registered addresses match those of voters, and who receive get-out-the-vote mailers urging them to request ballots). That pretty much guarantees the vote count will be delayed and probably impossible to ever fully resolve, to universal satisfaction.
Even without such mass mailings, there have been a number of problems with vote-by-mail ballots in the last few elections. Lost (and here), “lost,” or misplaced ballots are just one such problem. (There are also “found” ballots, a problem of their own.) Another has been the phenomenon of dozens of ballots being mailed to one single-family address. Another has been election officials perpetrating vote fraud. Another has been the cooperation of complicit postal workers in vote-by-mail fraud.
Another has been the more time-intensive problem of ballot-harvesting. Ballot-harvesting doesn’t involve voters mailing ballots to election centers; it’s about third parties collecting and hand-delivering vote-by-mail ballots to reception spots. The practice is wide open to fraud. And it has been prominent in narrow “wins” by Democrats that are ultimately declared many days after election day – following an election night lead by their Republican opponents.
Note that every one of these ballot vulnerabilities is increased by extending the deadlines for ballot returns after election day, and lowering the bar for acceptable ballots (e.g., signature matching and fill-in information). Democratic lawyers have been busy getting these vulnerability-enhancers in place in 2020, especially in battleground states.
It is so self-evident that there is nothing to prevent ballot fraud when ballots are mass-mailed, rather than sent only upon request (and ideally vouched for by a certified witness), that it destroys one’s credibility to insist otherwise. There is no need to even listen to people who claim that mass-mailing ballots doesn’t increase the likelihood of fraud. (And who, incidentally, include people who have previously stated that fraud was a real problem with vote-by-mail ballots.)
If mass-mailing doesn’t increase the likelihood of fraud, then we can all stop worrying about unsolicited credit card applications being mailed to us and intercepted by fraudsters. It’s much easier to commit fraud with a mass-mailed ballot than with a mass-mailed credit card application – and the latter is a billions-of-dollars-per-year crime problem.
And this is all in addition to the problems seen in the last few elections with boxes of paper ballots somehow being lost for days between polling stations and ballot-counting locations (see here, here, here, here, here – and here, because it occasionally happens with electronic voting too).
This pattern, like ballot-harvesting, has often been a key factor in changing election night leads for Republicans into Democratic wins (famously for Al Franken in Minnesota and Christine Gregoire in Washington).
At this point, every candidate has a legitimate concern that this may happen to him or her, through one or all of these methods of perpetrating voting fraud. Some of the methods involve voter registration fraud (here as well); some don’t. They are separate but related issues. There are also problems with fraudulently registered people casting ballots, even in person. There is the yet-again-separate category of people falsely using the identities of others to vote (e.g., the identity of a deceased or disabled voter). There is the category of people voting multiple times – another labor-intensive effort if one has to visit multiple polling places, but much easier if one need visit only one polling place, while voting the five or six ballots that may have been mass-mailed to a single address, as opposed to requested by the one voter who lives there right now.
Then there are the problems with ambiguous ballot marking, the issue for which the 2000 presidential election in Florida became famous (and endowed us with the deathless expression “pregnant chad”). In a given year there may be little concern about that. But in every state in America where paper ballots are used, it could be made an issue, with only a few complaints.
Merely re-adjudicating marked ballots across America, a time-consuming process, could render us “unable” to hold the Electoral College vote on the appointed day of 14 December 2020.
The Democrats have not added a battalion of more than 600 “voting rights” lawyers to the Biden campaign team as a mere training exercise. They mean to use those lawyers to challenge the vote.
Nor is it merely at random that prominent Democrats like Hillary Clinton have advised Biden not to concede under any circumstances; that other politicians and the media are constantly flogging the theme that Trump doesn’t intend to play fair; and that the Democrats in Congress have been working for months to get the U.S. intelligence community to mouth words written for it by Democrats about Russia trying to steal the election for Trump.
On top of this, the Supreme Court has lost a justice, and the Democrats, instead of wanting to have a full court capable of a decisive 5-4 verdict in an election-related case, are insisting that the court remain incapable of such a ruling at a time when it could be most needed to settle an electoral crisis. This is clear evidence that the Democrats would rather have the exploitable opportunities of a challenged election: one in which the challenges can’t necessarily be resolved.
Moreover, we have been seeing since at least Memorial Day, if not before then, what the Democrats are willing to do to hold America at risk. It was almost laughable when voices from the Left began shouting “Burn it all down!” after Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, and Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi vowed to take the most drastic measures they could think of if Republicans try to seat a new justice now. What has the Left been doing, this entire year of 2020?
We know what they’ll do if they don’t like the election outcome as it appears the night of 3 November. We already know. They’re actively envisioning measures (see the articles on the “war game”) like challenging the election, dragging it out past deadlines, and doing drastic things like fomenting secession by the Western states and evicting Trump forcibly from the White House, even if there’s no legitimately agreed outcome by 20 January 2021. Literally every day, meanwhile, we see the radical Left visiting destruction and mayhem on America’s streets, and calling it political “protest.”
We know what they’re going to do. They’ve already shown one card in their hand, in concrete: the ending date of the continuing resolution the House just passed to keep the federal government funded. It’s 11 December, three days before the Electoral College vote scheduled for 14 December.
Regardless of who wins the House in the election, the Democrats will still hold the House until the first week of January. They’re arranging to hold the federal government hostage in the CR negotiations between 3 November and 11 December, with the potential for soldiers, the Border Patrol, and air traffic controllers to lose their paychecks for an undetermined period just before Christmas. It’s very possible that the Democrats won’t agree to any additional CR after 11 December if they’re unhappy about the election. If the currently percolating CR goes into effect, with its end date of 11 December, the House Democrats will have a big screw to turn on the American people.
Of course Trump isn’t agreeing to held be hostage by whatever passing definition this group wants to give to “peaceful transfer of power.” In a messy, chaotic election aftermath plagued by unreliable balloting, mass legal challenges, and riots across the country, Trump would be very wrong to let his political opponents arbitrarily define what a “peaceful transition” will be. That would be to let the terms of the transition be dictated by a mob.
Trump is the president. It’s his job to make decisions about such an interim, if it develops. He’s not being irresponsible or tyrannical in refusing to commit beforehand to “terms to be defined later” – by someone else. Such demands of him are straw men, made to prejudice the people’s expectations, not to “hold Trump accountable.”