His policy statements, no matter how outlandish, will shift the national narrative and shape the political direction at the Capitol and in states across the country. The result will be even more political extremism, division and gridlock.
The response in major cities would be a repeat of massive street protests.
Knowing that he risks a prison sentence if he loses in NovemberTrump will use his online platform, his control over the Republican Party, and his relationships with friendly media outlets to delegitimize both the justice system prosecuting him and the integrity of the election itself.
His ability to portray himself as a populist martyr and his preemptive claims of voter fraud will find a receptive audience among conservative Americans. These efforts will not paralyze the electoral process, but they will certainly persuade many of its supporters to doubt the legitimacy of the election outcome – a problem exacerbated by AI-fueled misinformation and social media echo chambers.
In a world racked by war and economic weakness, the prospect of a Trump victory will weaken America’s standing on the world stage as Republican lawmakers adopt his foreign policy positions and U.S. allies and adversaries will protect themselves against its likely policies.
Even before the election is decided, U.S. support for Ukraine will face stronger headwinds in Congress, straining the transatlantic alliance and leaving Ukrainians and their front-line European supporters in the lurch. Kiev will take increasingly reckless steps to realize possible gains before the next president takes office, while Vladimir Putin’s hopes for a permanent end to US aid in 2025 will harden Russia’s resolve to continue the fight.
In the Middle East, Trump’s strong support for Israel and his aggressive approach toward Iran will limit Biden’s space for political maneuvering. Pressure from congressional Republicans will make it politically more difficult for Biden to preserve the “thaw” in relations with China this year. Trump’s shadow will have America’s allies and adversaries preparing for his return to power, with destabilizing consequences well before Inauguration Day.
If Trump wins the election, Biden will concede. But even if Democratic leaders are less likely than the former president to claim the election was “rigged,” they will continue to treat Trump as illegitimate, believing he should be in prison.
The response in big cities would be a repeat of the massive street protests during the 2016 presidential transition, but in a country now even more divided and with greater numbers of Democrats convinced that Trump 2.0 threatens the future of American democracy . Whether driven by clashes with counterprotesters, extremist elements, or opportunistic bad actors, widespread violence poses a real risk.
If Trump loses, he will do everything in his power, legal or illegal, to contest the outcome and challenge the legitimacy of the process. As a challenger, he would have fewer options for contesting the results than he had as president in 2020. But that won’t stop him from trying — especially if he faces the real possibility a prison sentence.
He will once again denounce massive fraud. He will incite widespread intimidation campaigns against election workers and secretaries of state in red and blue states, demanding that they “find” additional votes for him. He will rely heavily on Republican governors to submit slates of Republican electors in states won by Democrats. He will pressure Republican senators and representatives to disqualify Democratic electoral college votes. None of these tactics are likely to succeed, but they will cause further damage to the public’s already low confidence in the integrity of America’s democratic institutions.
Barring an unlikely Democratic landslide, Republicans will view Biden’s victory as illegitimate, alleging either that the election was “stolen” or that politically motivated investigations made it harder for Trump to campaign. They will view Trump’s incarceration as a case of political persecution.
Although large-scale violence would be less likely in this environment, America’s political division would deepen and the fragmentation of the nation into red and blue states, cities, and towns would accelerate, further politicizing decisions about where to live , doing business and investing.
The United States is already the world’s most divided and dysfunctional advanced industrial democracy. The 2024 elections will exacerbate this problem, regardless of who wins. With the outcome of the vote essentially a coin toss (at least for now), the only certainty lies in continued damage to America’s social fabric, its political institutions, and its international reputation.