Sure, could happen, can’t rule it out: Perhaps the most astounding year in American life in generations, presided over by the most norm-shattering leader in American history, might culminate with a surge of normality.
What would normal even look like? Maybe a series of sharp but nonetheless civil and substantive debates. Or a close election that nonetheless ends with an unambiguous and uncontested result.
Even to contemplate these bland scenarios is to highlight their improbability. Based on the record so far of the Trump years — and especially of the crisis-infused year we are in now — it borders on crazy to imagine that the balance of 2020 will unfold without becoming even more crazy.
Multiple interviews in recent days with influential people in Washington’s political class, including strategists and government veterans in both major parties and figures who have served at high levels in the Trump White House, found most people expecting some sort of dramatic shift of plot in this election year.
Three factors, in the calculations of these insiders, increase the likelihood of an event that in a conventional era would be highly unlikely:
•President Donald Trump’s psychology, predisposed to dramatic and unorthodox actions, as he contemplates public polling and news coverage that increasingly describe him as an underdog for reelection.
•The age of Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, 74 and 77, respectively, during a coronavirus pandemic that has disproportionately affected elderly people.
•The general tumult in which the 2020 election is taking place, because of the pandemic and the vast decline in the domestic and world economies as a result of related shutdowns.
But if there is consensus on the high odds of more disruption, there is hardly uniformity on its precise manifestation. Here are seven scenarios that are something less than predictions but — by virtue of the experience of the people interviewed — something more than pure parlor-game speculation.
Trump finds an exit
One veteran Republican operative, close to many in the GOP’s donor class, said in the past couple weeks it’s been stunning the extent to which people who have some association with Trump are speculating he might drop out of the race. “He doesn’t want to be a loser, and that’s all in jeopardy now,” this strategist said. “It’s less than 50-50 [Trump would pull himself off ticket] but I’m amazed at the amount of New Yorkers that are talking about this — his former friends. … They think he’s looking for an excuse to get out.”
Worth emphasizing: This speculation is not coming from people claiming firsthand knowledge of Trump’s thinking in recent weeks, amid reports that he realizes that, on the current trajectory in national and swing-state polls, he is losing.
By these lights, Trump’s complaints about the alleged — though factually unsupported — vulnerability of postal voting to fraud could be a predicate for him saying the election is unfair and so he’s getting out. Or he could come up with a host of other reasons — he’s achieved his important objectives, he wants time with family, and so on — for bailing on a showdown.
In different manifestations of the scenario, the logic is the same: Trump has shown in his business career that he is willing to declare bankruptcy and shed liabilities in order to fight again another day. If remaining in the public eye, and perhaps fashioning a path for his children or some other designated political heir to keep the Trump brand alive in coming years, he might calculate that is better to get out early rather than risk a massive repudiation in November.
Trump shakes things up
The most dramatic version of a shakeup scenario is something that at least in some moods Trump has previously pondered: Dumping Mike Pence.
“He would throw Mike Pence in a wood chipper if he needed to,” said one former White House official who frequently interacted with Trump. “I’m still very surprised that he’s on the ticket. If someone walks in there and tells him, ‘The only way you’re going to pull this out is to put an African American on the ticket or to put a woman on the ticket’ — if it’s good for Trump, he’ll do it in a second.”
The problem with this scenario is that it is likely too late to do any good, even if Trump were willing to betray the loyal Pence. It would smack of desperation and endanger the support of religious conservatives who have a marriage of convenience with Trump but genuine devotion to Pence.
A more conventional shakeup scenario is one that campaigns in trouble often have turned to — firing the campaign manager or reinforcing that person with some wizened party pooh-bah — almost never to good effect.
Trump circles in recent days have been abuzz with speculation that Trump’s confidence in campaign manager Brad Parscale is shaken or even that he is second-guessing son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner. Illustrative of the chatter is gossip that veteran George W. Bush strategist Karl Rove might be taking on an enhanced role. Rove has said he…
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