Many media are full of presidential election nightmare scenarios. Frighteningly history shows that some of these nightmare scenarios are credible.
American history contains several presidential election nightmare scenarios that we could repeat on 3 November 2020. We need to examine the potential election nightmares because election debacles can alter the course of history.
The historical presidential election nightmares to worry about include:
The 1860 Scenario Civil War
In 1860, an entire region of the county – the South refused to accept the results of the election. Southerners were so scared of President-elect Abraham Lincoln (R-Illinois) and a new Republican majority in Congress, they left the Union.
Interestingly, Southerners did not reject or contest the election. The soon-to-be Confederates accepted both the accuracy and legality of the election.
Instead, many Southerners feared Republicans planned to restrict or ban slavery. Since slavery was the basis of the Southern economy, those people believed they had no choice but to succeed from the Union. Southerners, wrongly, believed they needed slaves to pick cotton, which was their only source of income.
A modern variation of 1860 could be Democrats promising to ban fossil fuels to limit global warming and climate change. As a result, fossil fuel dependent regions or states could try to leave the union or launch guerrilla warfare.
I think a repeat of 1860 is unlikely because the fossil fuel regions lack the money, resources, and level of popular support the Confederacy had. Remember, the Confederates controlled several states and much of the nation’s wealth, and had the backing of many Army officers in 1861.
A more probable scenario, in my mind, is widespread civil disobedience or protests. Unemployed coal miners blocking the Interstates with their pickup trucks; or marching on Washington, for example. However, such civil disobedience could be disruptive and lead to violence.
The 1876-1877 Scenario, the Corrupt Bargain
The presidential election of 1876 was the closest in American history. In detail, Rutherford B. Hayes (R-Ohio) won by one Electoral College Vote (185-184). However, Samuel J. Tilden (D-New York) won the popular vote by a margin of 4.3 million to 4.036 million.
Gridlock ensued because both parties refused to accept the election results. Democrats refused to accept the Electoral College results because they felt some Southern Republican state legislatures; which appoint presidential electors were undemocratic and illegitimate.
The Democrats alleged, probably correctly, Republicans only controlled those legislatures because of the suppression of white votes. Meanwhile, Republicans claimed corrupt Democratic political machines; such as New York’s Tammany Hall, used vote fraud and voter suppression to elect Tilden.
The result was that the nation approached Inauguration Day (then in March) without a President-elect. This created a crisis because the Constitution does not specify what happens if there is no presidential election winner. Nobody knew what would happen. Would Congress appoint a president or could President Ulysses S. Grant (R-Illinois) stay in office?
The result was hysteria and talk of a Second Civil War. The fear was that angry Southern Democrats were getting ready to put on their Confederate Uniforms and march on Washington to put Tilden in the White House. Predictably, angry Northerners would have dug out their blue uniforms and met the Southerners.
The politicians averted Civil War with the Corrupt Bargain or Compromise of 1877. To explain, Democrat and Republican leaders met at a Washington hotel and made a disgusting deal to avert a Second Civil War.
In the Compromise of 1877, Grant and Hayes agreed to withdraw federal troops from the South. In exchange, Democrats agreed to accept Hayes as President.
The result of the Corrupt Bargain was that Southern racists were free to disenfranchise, suppress, oppress, and kill African Americans. Consequently, every Southern State had disenfranchised black voters by 1905. In addition, lynching had become the South’s favorite spectator sport by 1900.
A corrupt bargain of 2020 is my greatest fear. I fear a corrupt bargain because I think U.S. Speaker of the House (D-California) US Vice President Mike Pence (R-Indiana), Joe Biden (D-Delaware), President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida), and US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) will sell voters out to serve their interests.
I think all of those leaders will sell us out because I consider them corrupt, amoral, ruthless, and borderline sociopaths. In fact, I think Pelosi and McConnell are so corrupt they could sell the presidency.
To explain, historians think a corrupt businessman; rail baron Thomas A. Scott orchestrated the corrupt bargain of 1877. Scott initiated the talks that led to the bargain, because he wanted federal support for his proposed transcontinental railroad between Chicago and Los Angeles (the future Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe). In addition, the press blamed a powerful Republican US Representative Roscoe Conkling (R-New York) for the corrupt bargain.
Thus, a Corrupt Bargain is possible. However, there is no fear of bloodshed today as there was in 1877. Remember, it was only 12 years after the Civil War’s end, and Americans did not want another bloodbath. Today, most Americans have no experience of war and no fear of it. That frightens me.
The 1800 and 1824 Scenario Congress picks the President
Theoretically, the U.S. Constitution offers a solution for a disputed presidential election. To explain, the 12th Amendment states “the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President” if the Electoral College cannot decide the election.
However, the 12th Amendment process did not work in 1877. Yet, there were two elections in which the US House of Representatives chose a president.
In 1800, the House elected Thomas Jefferson (R-Virginia) president after a series of complex maneuvers. The 1800 compromise worked because most Americans accepted Jefferson as President.
The 1824 election; however, blew up the American political system because of another corrupt bargain. In 1824, there was no decisive winner in the Electoral College, however Andrew Jackson (Tennessee) won a clear majority of the popular vote and the Electoral College (99 to 89).
Jackson lost the election because of a Corrupt Bargain between two presidential candidates; Speaker of the House Henry Clay (Kentucky) and John Quincy Adams (Massachusetts). Clay threw his 37 Electoral College votes to Adams in exchange for appointment as US Secretary of State.
Consequently, Adams became President without a majority of the popular vote. Jackson supporters were so angry they formed a new political party; the Democrats, to take their man to the White House. Class warfare played a role in the conflict, because Americans saw Clay and Adams as part of America’s traditional ruling class of educated New Englanders and wealthy Southern planters.
Surprisingly, many people viewed Jackson, a rich and politically connected slave-owning lawyer, as a “man of the people.” However, Jackson came from a humble background; he was the son of poor Irish immigrants. Clay and Adams came from elite families. Adams was the son of a former President who was also a Founding Father.
In 1828, the Democrats destroyed the governing Jeffersonian Republican coalition and elected Jackson by an overwhelming majority. The result was the beginning of the party system in the United States.
If the 2020 presidential contest goes to the House, the result could be as controversial and as unpopular as it was in 1824. Remember, the U.S. Speaker of the House is Nancy Pelosi (D-California). Both Republicans and leftwing Democrats view Pelosi as corrupt and elitist. Hence, 2020 could give rise to new political coalitions as the 1824 Corrupt Bargain did.
The 2000 Scenario the Courts Decide
Incredibly, America made it through the 20th Century without a contested presidential election. The 21st Century, however, began with a dramatic presidential electoral debacle.
Many people consider 2000 the year the US Supreme Court decided the presidential election. To explain, Election Day Day 2000 ended with no clear winner in the vital battleground state of Florida. Florida’s electoral problems meant no winner in a close race.
The debacle began when the campaign of George W. Bush (R-Texas) challenged the election outcome in Palm Beach County, Florida. Bush claimed the County had under-counted Republican votes.
Predictably, Vice President Al Gore (D-Tennessee) the Democratic nominee challenged the recount which favored Bush. Gore demanded another recount which Florida courts granted. However, the US Supreme Court eventually shut down the counting in a controversial decision.
That made Bush the winner, which angered Democrats. Democrats were angry because the five U.S. Supreme Court Justices who stopped the recount were Republican appointees. One result of that decision; Bush v. Gore was to increase skepticism of the Supreme Court.
A 2000 scenario will be destructive today because people have far more skepticism and suspicion of the courts in 2020. I think a more probable, and possibly more destructive scenario, is the U.S. Supreme Court refusing to rule on an election. One result of the Supreme Court’s refusal to act could be to throw the election into the U.S. House of Representatives (see 1824 for how that could go).
The Supreme Court could stay out of the election because Chief Justice John Roberts thinks judges should stay out of politics. Moreover, Roberts has written opinions that strip courts of their ability to interfere in elections. Thus, the Supreme Court could abstain from an election decision forcing politicians to make a compromise.
Either decision could be destructive because I think the voters could reject both.
The 1916, 1948, or 2000 scenario the media calls the Election for the Wrong Guy
There have been presidential elections in which some media called the election for the wrong man.
On 7 November 1916, President Woodrow Wilson (D-New Jersey) went to bed thinking he had lost the election. The next day, onlookers interrupted Wilson’s golf game to tell him he would serve a second term.
On 2 November 1948, The Chicago Tribune, one of the nation’s top newspapers, ran the headline “Dewey defeats Truman.” In reality, President Harry S. Truman (D-Missouri) defeated Governor Thomas Dewey (R-New York) by a margin of 303 to 189 Electoral Votes.
On the evening of 7 November 2000, all three major U.S. broadcast TV networks declared Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tennessee) winner of the Presidential Election. By 3 a.m. on 8 November 2000, NBC Anchorman Tom Brokaw was apologizing to viewers for a mistake.
All three debacles occurred because observers made election calls based on incomplete information. In 1916 and 1948, East Coast based journalists called the election before they counted all the votes on the West Coast. In 2000, the networks called the election before the Florida vote count was complete.
Some observers predict a similar scenario could play out in 2020. For instance, Josh Mendelsohn the head of Hawkfish; a political strategy firm owned by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, warns of the Red Mirage.
Mendelsohn fears TV networks and other could call the 2020 presidential election before officials count the mail-in ballots. In particular, Mendelsohn thinks networks will call the election based on surveys of voters at polling places. Those results could be inaccurate because many people will vote by mail.
Mendelsohn thinks election night polls could call the contest for President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) because Republicans are more likely to vote in person. However, Democrats who outnumber Republicans, prefer mail-in voting. In addition, it could take some states several days to count mail-in votes.
Thus, people could think Trump won for a few days, when Democrat Joe Biden (D-Delaware) is the winner. That could lead to disaster because the 2016 Trump victory triggered riots. Remember, the country is far angrier than in 2016.
Hence, there could be riots that destroy property and kill or injure people because of a bad election. We could see the Trump Tower burn or a mob could lynch Donald J. Trump Jr. because Fox News or MSNBC calls the election too early.
Frighteningly history shows us the Election Nightmare scenarios are credible. Thus, Americans have more nightmares to fear in the terrible year of 2020.