It is time to start thinking about the transition from President Trump to President Biden.
If recent trends continue there seems to be no way for the current president to win a second term. I am not talking about polls. I am talking about Trump’s own behavior which is highlighted by his inability to admit mistakes, his unwillingness to change course and his penchant for doubling down. Combined, these three traits guarantee that Trump is on an unsustainable policy course that will lead to more COVID-19 infections, more virus deaths, a weak economy and lost American standing in the world.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi was right in 2017 when she predicted Trump would “self-impeach.” Since the start of this year he has allowed the Coronavirus pandemic to claim more than 130,000 American lives, and if current trends continue, the number will easily reach 200,000 by Election Day. The mismanagement of the pandemic has cost millions of jobs and pushed the economy into recession.
Trump’s approval rating has fallen so low that most politicians at this stage would choose to retire rather than face the humiliation of a public defeat at the polls. There is some chatter in the news media, and reportedly inside the Trump campaign, that a withdrawal from the race is possible. Presumably, the president has until the Republican convention in late August to make that decision.
As if matters were not bad enough, we now have strong evidence to believe the president has given up not only on fighting the COVID-19 threat, but also on his role as commander in chief. How else can we explain his refusal to be briefed, or take action on, credible reports that the Russian government has been paying fighters in Afghanistan to kill American soldiers?
I have argued since 2017 that we have an imposter in the White House and that Trump’s incompetence means the job of president has been effectively vacant since President Obama left the Oval Office for the last time.
The damage Trump and his enablers have done to the presidency and the country is immeasurable and the job of restoring all that has been lost must begin as soon as the election results are known in November.
For the purposes of this essay I will assume President Trump has dug himself an inescapable political grave and our next president is Joe Biden.
I am not too concerned about Trump refusing to leave office if he loses. I am more concerned about him refusing to give up the presidential spotlight or the bully pulpit as it is commonly known. There is a tradition in American politics of the winner receding into the background after his victory speech and only re-emerging on Inauguration Day. Because he is replacing President Trump, who craves nothing more than attention, President-elect Biden will not have that luxury. He must begin governing by signal as soon as he has been declared the victor.
To begin with, he must use the moral authority of the office he is about to enter to bring the United States in line with the rest of the world in efforts to control the Coronavirus. This means unveiling his plan to do so immediately and convincing Americans to go along even before he has the official power to implement policy.
As President Trump should have learned by now, the only way to rescue the American economy and save lives, is to tackle the public health crisis first. The efforts to control the virus will send a clear signal to the business community and the rest of the world that the United States is once again being led by a serious and competent person.
As a function of the coming campaign, Biden will probably be compelled to unveil an economic recovery plan between now and Election Day. He must be prepared the day after to meet swiftly with the existing and probable post January congressional leadership to enact the plan as quickly as possible. Perhaps even over a veto by President Trump.
Regardless of tradition, President-elect Biden must begin communicating with allies around the world — directly or indirectly — that the established order of mutually beneficial collaboration on international issues will resume on January 20, 2021 as if U.S. foreign policy is simply returning after a debaucherous four year sabbatical.
It is very likely that during the entire transition period President Trump will continue to act out as a sore loser, perhaps refuse to accept the results of the election, take his case to court, and possibly refuse to cooperate with the Biden transition team at the expense of our country. The tradition of a peaceful transfer of power might be the last norm Trump tries to destroy, but I have confidence there are enough levers of power in place — and in the hands of the right people — to prevent his success.
The right people will also be important to President-elect Biden and he should waste no time publicly announcing key members of his incoming cabinet. Within the first week following the election he should be ready to announce his public health, economic and foreign policy team. The team should include well known and respected Democrats and Republicans. The team should begin meeting regularly with the new president as soon as possible so it is ready to begin correcting the Trump carnage at 12:01p.m. on January 20th.
This time, following the election, we do not need political courtesy, we need a shadow government operating in the open — even without official power — to demonstrate to the world that the United States is back and ready to lead.