In a past note, I offered some observations as to how Russian President Vladimir Putin might react, if President-Elect Joe Biden won the presidency, during the interregnum between the determination of Mr. Biden’s victory and his Inauguration Day. There are obviously many parties with interests to pursue during the coming ten weeks, particularly since President Trump seems, at least at this point, intent on futilely thrashing about. How a number of pivotal players might view their respective opportunities and challenges:
Mr. Biden first: He’s already doing it. The President-Elect is projecting momentum, inevitability, moderation, and unity. He is executing his Coronavirus policy, and either has or will (critical: after securing the Trump Administration’s approval) publicly and privately expressing American stability to both allies and adversaries. While Mr. Biden has already alluded to a slew of Executive Orders he intends to issue on Inauguration Day (e.g., extending DACA, re-entering the Paris Climate Accord and appropriately rescinding overtly biased-based Trump Administration actions such as the Muslim ban), he should defer announcing dramatic policy reversals that don’t have a tinge of bias, such as those relating to fracking regulations and the Iranian nuclear deal.
I earlier indicated that during any interregnum between Trump and Biden Administrations, Mr. Trump’s failings will render American foreign policy at its most impotent in over a century; that said, Mr. Trump’s foibles and instability may cause many of our adversaries to tread gingerly.
Mr. Putin: I have come to the opinion that if Mr. Putin – who has yet to extend congratulations to Mr. Biden — thinks inflaming American domestic passions will make future relations with Mr. Biden more difficult, he won’t. I think Mr. Putin will be tempted to exert influence in Belarus and might probe Ukraine.
Chinese President Xi Jinping: Having recently secured the Mainland’s position in Hong Kong, and being aware of President Trump’s erraticism and that Mr. Trump may well blame Mr. Xi for his defeat due to Mr. Xi’s early Coronavirus dissembling, I expect Mr. Xi to stand very still. Although an overt move against Taiwan is undoubtedly tempting, it’s too likely to provoke a bellicose response from Mr. Trump.
North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un: Will do what Mr. Xi tells him to do. See above regarding the dangers of provoking an unstable Mr. Trump.
Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei: The Iranians undoubtedly consider Democrats like Messrs. Obama and Biden easier to work with than erratic and warlike Republicans [Note: I agree with the Republicans on this one ;)]. Mr. Trump probably hates Iran even more than he hates China. If you are Iran, this is the time to stand pat and avoid provoking Mr. Trump.
The Taliban in Afghanistan: This group is so driven by hate that it can’t get out of its own way. Although Richard Haass commented in A World in Disarray, “[D]iplomacy and negotiations tend to reflect [armed conflict] realities on the ground, not change them,” I would nonetheless venture that if it was smart, the Taliban would throttle down its violence in Afghanistan, continue its peace talks with the Afghan government, avoid provoking Mr. Trump, give Mr. Biden the psychological space to remove our remaining troops – all but a foregone conclusion if the Taliban can restrain itself — and then overrun the country. Since the Taliban has never demonstrated a shred of strategic thinking, this seems the Middle East’s, and perhaps the world’s, wildest card.
Our allies: Whether happy or sad at Mr. Trump’s defeat, these nations need the United States. They’ll seek to make accommodation with Mr. Biden. If I were Mr. Biden, I would see what if anything could be done with German Chancellor Angela Merkel – the ally most obviously thrilled at the prospect of Mr. Trump’s departure — to obstruct Germany’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline project with Russia.
On the domestic sphere:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: Mr. McConnell will quietly pull the party trappings out from under Mr. Trump. Although some commentators are talking about establishment Republicans’ desire to hold Mr. Trump’s base sans Mr. Trump, my guess is that the pros realize that a movement like Mr. Trump’s needs a charismatic demagogue. They rode Mr. Trump to a lot of conservative judges; they know they can work with Mr. Biden; and … they know that Mr. Trump was never qualified to be president.
Rupert Murdoch: By far the dominant voice in the alt-right propaganda echo chamber. His Wall Street Journal and New York Post have already called the election for Mr. Biden. Some liberal talking heads are talking about “what the Fox News hosts will do.” I am surprised by that; these hosts have the platform that Mr. Murdoch gives them. If/when Mr. Murdoch tells them to shift their perspective from “The election was rigged” to regret that “Mr. Trump lost, and it’s time to look forward,” they’ll do as they’re told. Attacking Democrats will be at least as good for Fox’ business as hyping an obviously unstable and unqualified loser who is probably going to seek to become Fox’ competitor.
The following will sound paranoid, but Mr. Trump is unpredictable, and retains control the federal machinery for another ten weeks. If any of the following individuals, I would take the following steps to guard against risks to the Republic during the interregnum in the event that Mr. Trump either resists leaving office, demonstrates irrationality or paralysis as he absorbs his defeat, or otherwise conducts his office in a manner dangerously deleterious to American domestic or international interests. Almost certainly unnecessary; but precautions perhaps worth taking:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: There is undoubtedly a lawyer – undoubtedly a man 😉 – elegant, cultured, who is at the epicenter of Democratic Party power politics. Call him, “Mr. Clifford.” (If one Googles “Clark Clifford,” you’ll see the prototype.) If I was Ms. Pelosi, I would have already called Mr. Clifford, and – her lips to his ear — asked him to draft a generic Article of Impeachment for use if necessary.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley: I’d very quietly have trusted outside counsel advise me as to the circumstances under the Military Code in which a subordinate officer can relieve a commanding officer.
Vice President Mike Pence: After consulting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, I’d have trusted outside counsel advise me regarding the 25th Amendment (this last almost certainly won’t happen).
Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett: The ball is almost certainly not going to be hit to them in any meaningful way. I’d already be relaxing in a warm bath with a glass of fine wine [or in Justice Kavanaugh’s case, a cold beer ;)].
President Trump: Every one of us has suffered an emotionally crushing setback at some point or other. I would suggest, with genuine sympathy – despite the danger his instability presents — for the unspeakable anguish that the President, a man beset by crippling insecurity, is now undoubtedly experiencing, that he consider the following clip, the conclusion of the portrayal of another talented, proud, and deeply flawed man in a film that I guarantee that all men of the President’s and my vintage absorbed at the time. It provides perspective if not solace …