2020 is shaping up to be the most hotly contested presidential election since 1876.
In that inauspicious year, as you may recall, Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote, but after a protracted Electoral College battle, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was declared the winner in exchange for his promise to end Reconstruction and remove federal troops from the South.
The Compromise of 1877 – as it was called – was a historical tragedy which paved the ways for decades of Jim Crow. However, the precedent it set could be used for nobler purposes today. Donald Trump should take a leaf from the Tilden playbook: in no circumstance should he concede the election without receiving some major concessions in exchange.
As of right now, the outcome of the presidential election is still uncertain. If Joe Biden wins, his position will not be strong. A President Biden would likely face a Republican Senate, which would effectively prevent him from passing any major legislation, or appointing any judges or Cabinet nominees, without bipartisan support. If he tried to rule by executive order, he would be subject to the rulings of a 6-3 conservative Supreme Court and a federal judiciary where a quarter of judges are now Trump appointees.
Still, Republican control of the Senate is far from guaranteed, and Democrats retain a chance of claiming a narrow majority. The American people cannot rely on the whims of that body alone to prevent Democrats from implementing the most radical planks of their 2020 platform. They need another line of defense, and Donald Trump can provide one.
Even if Joe Biden is found to be the clear winner of the Electoral College once all legal votes are counted, Trump will still have plenty of room for mischief. While he likely won’t barricade himself in the White House, he can refuse to concede, call Biden a cheater, and spend his last two months in office sabotaging the executive branch in any way he can. After leaving the White House, Trump can use his vast fortune to pepper Biden with legal challenges and continue to hold rallies all over the United States, loudly proclaiming to raucous crowds that Biden is an illegitimate usurper whose authority should not be respected.
Biden could get this treatment… or he could get a gracious concession speech from Trump and a peaceful and orderly transition of power. In no case should Trump give him the latter without eliciting significant concessions from the Democrats.
This means abandoning all of the radical proposals of Bernie Sanders and the Squad. No Green New Deal, no Medicare-for-All, no assault weapons ban, no Court packing, no D.C. statehood, no Puerto Rico statehood unless a blue state is split in two to create a new red state, no nationwide Covid lockdowns, no critical race theory, no removal of due process for college students accused of Title IX violations, no radical picks for Cabinet positions or judicial vacancies. None of it. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris must both publicly commit themselves to governing as the moderates that they have spent the last several months claiming to be.
If this truly was about saving America from the alleged evils of Trump, and not about implementing a plan to fundamentally reshape America into a democratic socialist nation, then here is Democrats’ chance to prove it by agreeing to a Biden presidency in exchange for a centrist policy agenda.
Lest I be accused of defeatism, allow me to emphasize that there is no reason yet to accept Trump as the loser of the election. However, if the prospect for a Trump victory grows bleak in the coming weeks, then this sort of deal will serve as an insurance policy against the worst tendencies of the Democratic Party. While the Compromise of 1877 did great and lasting harm to our nation, a similarly concocted Compromise of 2021 might save it, ensuring that we are governed by a moderate coalition rather than a junta of fringe left-wing activists hell-bent on foisting their radical agenda upon the rest of us.