When President Donald Trump encouraged North Carolinians to vote twice recently — by absentee ballot and in person — a chill ran down my spine.
A couple of days later a friend asked in earnest: "Do you think the Democrats are fixing to steal this thing?"
The chill returned.
Elections are divisive enough, but this year promises to be special. People of goodwill on both sides of the Trump-Joe Biden question have become genuinely, even legitimately, distrustful of some 2020 election procedures. That’s not going away; in all likelihood it will get worse.
Edward-Isaac Dovere of The Atlantic has been warning readers for months about the potential election doomsday we’re facing, and lots of other journalists are now doing the same. We need to listen to them and begin preparing — now.
Maybe one candidate blows out the other. Maybe results are clear within hours of polls closing.
Most experts tell us that’s wishful thinking this year. We’re likely looking at days or even weeks before the outcome is clear enough for certification, and, still, even then, plenty of voters won’t believe the outcome.
Both candidates might declare victory before all the votes are counted. It could happen as early as election night. We need to be ready for that.
Expect partisans to take to the airwaves day and night while millions of absentee ballots are being tallied at state boards of election replete with green-eye-shaded lawyers and judges. They’ll be chock full of talking points designed to cast doubt on the talking points coming from the other side. Accusations and counter-accusations will be made.
In this supercharged political environment, huge numbers of Americans will believe whoever speaks for their candidate. Expect foreign adversaries, especially the Russians, to pour gas on the fire through bogus social media posts seeking to delegitimize the election. They want us at one another’s throats.
Americans aren’t ready for this, and cable news channels probably aren’t either with just a month-and-half-to-go. We lack a stable of trusted leaders to give it to us even semi-straight on air. No one is considered impartial anymore, not even many news organizations. Not universally.
What we’re facing is no joke, and grown-ups within both major political parties need to start talking. They need to decide who they’re going to put on the airwaves postelection and what those people are going to say. Here’s what a Trump administration spokesman said Sunday on Facebook Live: "when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the [Biden] inauguration, the shooting will begin. If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get." If that doesn’t show the need for a coordinated, level-headed strategy from the parties, nothing does. We could genuinely be looking at postelection violence, and the country may not be able to endure it.
The parties should agree to recruit moderates from their ranks to serve as representatives after the election. Cable news stations, in particular, should be in on those discussions. Each spokesperson should hammer home a singular message: we need to be patient; every vote will be counted and both parties will honor the decision of the Federal Election Commission.
Nominees for the Republican side: Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse; Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw; Maine Sen. Susan Collins; Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander; South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott. Democrats should consider: Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar; New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker; California Sen. Dianne Feinstein; Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet; former Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh.
Their task would be eschewing hyperbole to keep things from getting out of control. I can think of no more important one this year.
No such planning is going on as of today. None. Both parties are busy with vote-pulling strategies. It’s what they do. But this year they need to do more. This year is different.
We are playing with fire.
William F.B. O'Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.