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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

They didn't vote for you, they voted against the other guy

Republicans in and out of government have attacked the legitimacy of the last two Democratic presidents. To be clear, in talking about "legitimacy," I do not mean simple policy disagreements and opposition to proposals. I mean a rhetoric of "you do not legitimately hold the office or wield the legal authority; that is why you should not be able to appoint your preferred judges or executive officials and why your policies should not be enacted."

For Clinton, it was that he never won a majority of the popular vote (ironic, given how Bush II and Trump governed in their respective first terms despite losing the popular vote). For Obama, it was that he was never eligible for the presidency because he was not born in the United States, plus he was pushing an un-American agenda.

What will it be if Biden becomes president? Trump is obviously trying to lay the groundwork for claims of election fraud, although I do not believe that will stick for long, at least outside the fringe. I think it will be something along these lines:

The People did not vote for you, they voted against Donald Trump. You did not really win the presidency, the other guy lost it. So you do not legitimately wield presidential authority. Had you run against someone who was not so wildly unpopular (who we, of course, now disavow all connection to), you would not be President. So you lack the full legitimacy necessary to exercise the full powers of the office.

I am thinking of this after reading this Jonathan Chait piece arguing that Biden is doing a lot right in his low-key campaign. The reality is that the polls reflect at least some number of people supporting "Not Trump" (or "Any Functioning Adult," as my neighbor's law sign says) and translating that into reporting support for Biden in polls. This is not uncommon--some piece of Trump's support was "Not Hillary." But I can see it being weaponized for the next four years.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 24, 2020 at 05:22 PM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink


Just thought I'd drop by with another Democratic rep's (recent) quote arguing Trump is an illegitimate president.

"I don't call him the President. He's the occupant. He's simply occupying the Oval Office," says Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) of President Trump,

Posted by: thegreatdisappointment | Jul 2, 2020 1:46:13 AM

"Agreed. And it's what awaits Trump should he win reelection."

I honestly don't think this is true, assuming there is no voter suppression and/or significant foreign election interference facilitated by Trump's team (both of which, I'd hope we could agree, are delegitimizing forces).

Posted by: a non | Jun 25, 2020 1:02:11 AM

"Meanwhile, my point stands that this is what awaits Biden on January 20 should he win the election."

Agreed. And it's what awaits Trump should he win reelection.

The precedent seems set that the opposing party now no longer accepts a president as legitimate. Which can't end well.

Posted by: thegreatdisappointment | Jun 24, 2020 11:33:33 PM

I stand corrected about Lewis; I either did not read about it at the time or forgot. I would have told Lewis he was wrong. I criticized the "not my president" crowd during the January 2017 protests.

Meanwhile, my point stands that this is what awaits Biden on January 20 should he win the election.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Jun 24, 2020 8:41:09 PM

"Representative John Lewis, the civil-rights icon, has sparked a fury by saying, 'I don't see this president-elect as a legitimate president.'"

Surely we're not going to demean John Lewis's political stature or influence?

"And certainly not George W. Bush, whom many Democrats viewed as illegitimate for several reasons: his popular-vote loss; questions over the final count in Florida; the fact that the Supreme Court effectively decided the election on a party-line vote."

Surely, again, we won't demean The Atlantic as referencing only the opinions of random bloggers.


Howard, you undermine your positions with a propensity towards gaslighting (pretending that attitude was limited to 'random bloggers').

Posted by: thegreatdisappointment | Jun 24, 2020 7:47:14 PM

Random bloggers and bumper stickers are not the equivalent of the opposing party in Congress and policy advocates.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Jun 24, 2020 7:25:31 PM


Just in case someone wanted to gaslight and say Jack-in-the-Box didn't run such a thing or that they innocently cut the 'P' off of the word 'Presidential'

Posted by: thegreatdisappointment | Jun 24, 2020 5:46:43 PM


(just in case anyone wanted to gaslight and say 'not my president' started after Bush's illegal Iraq war)

Posted by: thegreatdisappointment | Jun 24, 2020 5:43:08 PM

Resident of the United States

-- Liberals, circa 2000-2008 (even made it into a Jack-in-the-Box commercial)

Posted by: thegreatdisappointment | Jun 24, 2020 5:40:21 PM

"Not my president!"

-- Liberals, circa 2000-2008

Posted by: thegreatdisappointment | Jun 24, 2020 5:39:34 PM

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