Since last week, the news media has been busy churning out content echoing a talking point propagated during Congressional testimony by President Trump’s disgraced and disbarred attorney Michael Cohen claiming that Trump will not allow a peaceful transition if he loses the 2020 election.
Journalists and pundits utilized Cohen’s remarks to warn about such outlandish post-election scenarios as Trump using the U.S. military to cling to power, raising a private army of mercenaries or deliberately igniting a civil war.
Cohen is a convict who pled guilty to, among other things, lying to Congress in two separate prosecutions. The prison-bound Cohen also pled guilty to violating campaign finance laws and financial crimes, including tax evasion and bank fraud.
In his closing remarks before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Cohen stated:
Given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, there will never be a peaceful transition of power.
After the credibility-challenged Cohen’s internationally televised testimony, John Dean, President Richard Nixon’s former White House counsel, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in which he drew parallels with his own defining testimony against Nixon.
Dean used the column to say that he shares Cohen’s fears. Dean opined that Cohen’s warning about a violent transition “was the most troubling — actually, chilling — thing he said in his five hours before the committee.”
He further wrote:
Since Mr. Cohen’s warning came in his closing words, there was no opportunity for committee members to ask follow-up questions. So I double-checked with his lawyer, Lanny Davis, if I had understood Mr. Cohen’s testimony correctly. Mr. Davis responded, “He was referring to Trump’s authoritarian mind-set, and lack of respect for democracy and democratic institutions.”
Indeed, what is most similar about my and Mr. Cohen’s testimony is that we both challenged authoritarian presidents of the United States by revealing their lies and abuses of power. Mr. Trump is the first authoritarian president since Mr. Nixon, and neither he nor his supporters will play fair. Mr. Cohen will be dealing with these people the rest of his life.
In fact, all Americans are affected by the growing authoritarianism that made Mr. Trump president. These people who facilitated his rise will remain long after Mr. Trump is gone. We need to pay more attention.
In a piece published in the Miami Herald and other publications, syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. warned, “Should Trump lose in 2020, a smooth transition is not guaranteed.”
Pitts cited Cohen’s remarks and inquired: “Let that marinate a moment. And ask yourself: What happens if this guy whose self-definition, whose entire psychological structure, is founded upon a self-image as a man who always wins, loses? Can you see him quietly accepting it with dignity and grace? One can more readily imagine Mitch McConnell twerking in Times Square.”
Pitts claimed that Trump’s supporters could turn violent if he loses the 2020 election:
And if Trump does refuse to accept the verdict of the electorate, what do the people who have followed him slavishly, renouncing common sense, simple decency and the evidence of their own eyes, do then? Will they reject the legitimacy of the new president? Will violence follow?
You may think the entire scenario far-fetched. But in the Trump age, that term hardly has meaning anymore. Indeed, it is a measure of how extraordinary this era is that this fear, expressed by a man who knows Trump better than almost anyone, was not the top takeaway from the hearing.
Following the standard anti-Trump playbook of comparing the president to Nixon and Watergate, Pitts cited Dean to smear Trump’s entire presidency as a “cancer.”
“John Dean, you will recall, famously warned Richard Nixon of a ‘cancer’ on the presidency,” Pitts recalled. “But in 2019, the cancer is the presidency. So there is a need for us to be clear-eyed and sober about what we face. I don’t know that we’re there yet.”
In a stroke of originality, Moveon.org activist Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s former Secretary of Labor, wrote a piece for the Guardian titled, “If Trump loses, we know what to expect: anger, fear and disruption.”
Reich utilized Cohen’s warning to exclaim, “The United States is now headed by someone pathologically incapable of admitting defeat. This doesn’t bode well for the 2020 presidential election.”
The alarmist Reich implies that a Trump loss in 2020 could prompt a civil war:
For Trump, losing is the deepest form of humiliation, and humiliation is intolerable.
Imagine it’s November 2020 and Trump has lost the election. He charges voter fraud, claiming that the “deep state” organized tens of millions of illegal immigrants to vote against him, and says he has an obligation not to step down.
Only this time he’s already president, with all the powers a president commands.
In years past, Americans have trusted our system of government enough that we abide by its outcomes even though we may disagree with them. Only once in our history — in 1861 — did enough of us distrust the system so much we succumbed to civil war.
Showing no concern for Cohen’s track record of deceit, Reich declared: “We should take seriously Michael Cohen’s admonition that if Trump is defeated in 2020, he will not leave office peacefully.”
Over at MSNBC, “Morning Joe” regular Donny Deutsch cited Cohen’s comments to suggest, like the others, that Trump could ignite a civil war. “If impeachment starts to happen, even if he loses an election, whatever inner move you think this guy is capable of doing to create a civil war, he will [do]. … I’m not speaking hyperbole.”
At Truthout.com following Cohen’s warning, a column by William Rivers Pitt was titled, “Trump May Want to Be President Forever. Take the Threat Seriously.”
Pitt wildly suggests a “private army” could be called upon to wreak havoc if Trump loses:
It may also be worth noting that Erik Prince, brother of the sitting Education Secretary and a Trump devotee, used to have his own large, battle-tested private army. I’m sure he still has their phone numbers.
There is a legitimate concern that even discussing the idea of Trump seeking to be president past his term actually empowers him and his followers. Raising the specter, goes the argument, gives them a club to wield, a weapon of intimidation to add to their already formidable arsenal. This dilemma is real, but outweighed in the end by the dangers implicit in not sounding the alarm. Awareness of what he is capable of is the first requirement for any effective resistance. Trump is fully capable of doing this, and the people must be warned.
Donald Trump might be the most dangerous man ever to hold the office of the presidency, and only a fool would believe he will go quietly into that good night.
Echoing the others, Pitt warns of a civil war scenario. “Some will tell you the Civil War never ended, and a lot of those folks voted for Donald Trump,” he writes. “If he calls, they will come.”
The talking point that Trump would not bow out peacefully following any election defeat was circulating even before Cohen’s testimony. Two weeks ago, CNN.com ran a piece by law professor Joshua A. Geltzer headlined, “What if Trump refuses to accept defeat in 2020?”
“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,” Geltzer surmised.
Geltzer theorized Trump could potentially use the U.S. military to hold onto power after a defeat at the ballot box. “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 takes his outlandish theory so seriously he recommends that Congress ask military leaders to declare on record they will not allow Trump to use the military to stay in office following any election defeat:
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.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.
Joshua Klein contributed research to this article.