With November fast approaching, here’s a recurring question that can’t easily be dismissed as alarmist fretting or grim humor: What if President Donald Trump loses his bid for re-election but refuses to concede and instead clings to power? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed this concern last year, saying “we have to inoculate against that.” So did Trump’s prison-bound former lawyer Michael Cohen. Testifying before Congress, Cohen said, “I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, that there will never be a peaceful transition of power.” Even Joe Biden, Trump’s Democratic rival, doesn’t discount the possibility that Trump would make himself difficult to dislodge, but he suggested that others in government would get the job done: “I promise you, I’m absolutely convinced that they will escort him from the White House with great dispatch.”
If Trump does try to hang on to a presidency he’s lost, however, he can’t actually do very much all by himself. Running the executive branch requires help. Thankfully, there are laws that stop others from using the authorities of the executive branch on behalf of anyone other than the legitimate president. If William Barr, for example, tried to exercise the powers of the attorney general after a Trump loss, he could be subject to criminal prosecution.