Biden Wargaming Stolen Election Contingencies

He may be fighting the last war.

Rolling Stone (“Biden Is Building a ‘Superstructure’ to Stop Trump From Stealing the Election“):

For years, Donald Trump has made it abundantly clear that if he doesn’t win the 2024 presidential election, he is willing to cheat and steal it. Since President Joe Biden’s inaugural address, according to sources with intimate knowledge of the situation, Biden and his inner circle have been drawing up meticulous plans and creating a large legal network focused on wargaming a close election finish, in which the former president and Republican Party launch a scorched-earth, Big Lie–fueled crusade.


Over the past year, Team Biden has been conducting war games, crafting complex legal strategies, and devoting extensive resources to prepare for, as one former senior Biden administration official puts it, “all-hell-breaks-loose” scenarios. The preparations include planning for a contingency in which Biden’s margin of victory is so razor-thin that Trump and the GOP launch a tidal wave of legal challenges and political maneuvers to rerun his 2020 election strategy: declare victory anyways, and try to will it into existence.

“President Biden has been worried, for a while now, that Donald Trump is going to try to steal the election, if it’s very close on Election Day,” says a source familiar with Biden’s thinking. “If that ends up being the case, we are… also expecting the Republican Party to go into overdrive to help him steal it. We are continuing to build out the infrastructure to ensure that doesn’t happen — again — if President Biden wins and Trump and MAGA Republicans try to confuse [everyone] and sow chaos.”


Top officials in both the Trump and Biden camps are expecting an uncomfortably tight election outcome in November, sources in both campaigns have told Rolling Stone on numerous occasions over the past year. Advisers to both candidates say they expect the race will turn on a margin of just tens of thousands of votes in a handful of key battleground states, if not a single state. One Trump adviser says that they had privately told the ex-president and presumptive 2024 GOP nominee to anticipate an electoral “knife fight to the death” on, and likely in the wake of, Election Day.

Team Biden’s in-house counsels and network of outside lawyers are currently preparing legal strategies for scenarios involving recounts that would make, in the words of one Biden official, “make Florida in 2000 look like child’s play.”


Any attempt by Trump to try and undermine the 2024 election would likely look different than 2020, if only because he lacks the legal authority and access to federal resources he enjoyed as president.

Still, Team Biden has been planning for years sketching out what Trump could do as the leader of the GOP, and has partnered with the Democratic National Committee and a vast network of liberal attorneys and legal groups to conduct similar doomsday-style wargaming.

One swing-state Democratic election official involved with these efforts refers to it as a “superstructure” of various legal teams and liberal operatives who “are going to fight [Team Trump and election deniers] on all fronts and let them have it from all sides, if MAGA wants to tear down our democracy.”

According to two Biden campaign officials and two other sources with knowledge of the operation, draft pleadings and legal motions, for all kinds of possible Trump-related emergencies, are already written and at the ready. In critical swing states such as Georgia, Arizona, and Pennsylvania, Team Biden is regularly in contact with an array of outside counsels and local law firms that have been retained to actively monitor what is happening on the ground, including with regards to the activism of election-denying Trump allies. 

Bidenworld’s closely-held list of nightmare scenarios — in which Democratic legal teams would have to battle it out tooth and nail with Republican counterparts before, during, or after Election Day 2024 — has grown “comically long,” says one source with direct knowledge of the matter. Biden campaign officials and other Democrats familiar with the topic tell Rolling Stone that a key concern, for which step-by-step gameplanning has already begun, is how to robustly respond if Trump and other leading Republicans try to engineer another Jan. 6-style power grab.

In these internal wargames among Bidenworld and Democratic attorneys in key states, this kind of Jan. 6 sequel has included scripts in which House Republicans or state officials refuse to certify a Biden victory — an act that prominent GOP politicians, including on Capitol Hill, have publicly dangled as an option.

A spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee tells Rolling Stone that the national party is also setting aside “tens of millions of dollars in a robust voter protection program to safeguard the rights of voters to make their voices heard against relentless attacks from Donald Trump and the GOP.”

“Meanwhile, the Trump campaign and the RNC have invested in an army of conspiratorial, election-denying legal staff to undermine our elections and make it harder for Americans’ ballots to be counted,” says the DNC spokesperson. “We won’t let Republicans get away with these baseless attacks on our democracy, and we will continue to use every tool at our disposal to strengthen our democracy as MAGA extremists attempt to tear it down.”

First off: good. Trump, after all, went to great lengths in an attempt to steal the last election and has made it abundantly clear that he will not accept a loss this go-around as legitimate. It only makes sense to be prepared for that eventuality and plan for any possible scenario.

But, frankly, I’m not all that worried about Trump stealing the election through any systemic means. As noted in the piece, he’s not President anymore and lacks any institutional power. Not only does Biden control the levers of power this time, he’s much more adept at using them because he’s actually a professional politician with decades of experience, surrounded by a professional team whose expertise he actually has the good sense to listen to.

Moreover, Trump has intentionally destroyed the Republican National Committee, draining it of both expertise and resources. The notion that “the Trump campaign and the RNC have invested in an army of conspiratorial, election-denying legal staff” is laughable. Neither have any money at this point. The Democratic National Committee, by contrast, is teeming with money and is a more or less professionally run outfit.

To reiterate: I applaud Team Biden’s prudence in being prepared for a repeat of 2020. But Trump and the RNC aren’t even paper tigers anymore on the legal-institutional front.

Honestly, my real fear is that January 6, 2021 was a dress rehearsal for something much bigger and more sinister. While Trump has shown time and time again that he’s a joke in the courtroom, I do not doubt at all that he can still incite violence. The question is only at what scale.

FILED UNDER: 2024 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kylopod says:

    The biggest threat Trump poses to democracy at this point isn’t that he will successfully overturn the results of an election he loses–as you and the article note, Biden’s controlling the levers of power makes that scenario much less likely–but that he will win legitimately and then dismantle the democracy from within.

  2. Modulo Myself says:

    Who knows? Trump’s mistake in 2020 was in going through conventional routes with utter clowns like Rudy and then attacking the Capitol with a different bunch of clowns. But spectacle doesn’t equal pressure. Trump’s entire logic is that his existence is the problem itself. If America wasn’t so entirely screwed up, why would his voters being voting for him? They, certainly, are not the problem.

    Mix this logic with a steady low-level violence being blessed by state governments after he loses in 2024, and you could have a situation where the media will present the best case scenario for order as being going with Trump.

  3. Sleeping Dog says:

    The risk of a trump attempt to steal the election lies with a rogue state legislature in one of the battleground states. Given that the SC has ruled that state courts and governors have a role to play in the electoral vote process, the most likely attempt would be Wisconsin, which has a 2/3’s R tilt in the legislature, though that attempt would likely be thwarted by the state SC.

  4. Rick DeMent says:

    On the other hand they know what works and what doesn’t. Like what would happen if a large tabulating station in a swing state is bombed? Now the ballets are gone and no way to know for sure the tally of those votes). So a court case(s) are filed and they string the whole thing out with a boatload of horse hocky. There is a log jam and oh I guess we have to go to the House of Representatives which is not a straight up vote tally, but one vote per state. Bam! Trump is the president.

    Or chose your own adventure. All they need to do is to get the vote to the HoR by any means necessary and Trump wins. All they need to do is cause one election in one swing state to end in chaos and Trump wins. While my scenario might be too dramatic (and lifted straight from the TV show Succession) there are dozens of more subtle ways to bring about the same result.

    And since the Supreme Court will use any excuse to get involved, I think James is wrong about this. I believe that it will be much easier this time around. While Trump is not the President, there probably will be a Republican speaker of the House. And they are willing to do anything because they know the MAGA cult will buy whatever story they are pushing full stop. My god the GOP could take a beat from the Army Corps of Engineers and make their motto:

    The illegal we do right away, the unconstitutional just takes a little longer.

    The actual ACE motto: The difficult we do right away, the imposable just takes a little longer.

  5. Kylopod says:

    @Rick DeMent:

    All they need to do is to get the vote to the HoR by any means necessary and Trump wins.

    And you think Biden would agree to step down under those circumstances?

  6. Chip Daniels says:

    Imagine reading this 15 or 20 years ago, that we are preparing to defend American democracy from a dictator intent on destroying it.

    And imagine that this news is only reported in Rolling Stone magazine, without a word being written in the major papers or news networks.

  7. Jen says:

    I know it’s not realistic, but I really, really hope that all this preparation is for naught and that Biden wipes the floor with this buffoon.

    I too am worried about Trump’s ability to incite violence. His most ardent supporters are both malleable and armed.

  8. Kathy says:


    I’d bet all I own that Lardass will cry stolen election and try to overturn the results, even if he loses worse than Mondale in the EC.

    His only other option is to make the deal of his life: plea bargains to stay out of prison.

  9. Kylopod says:

    @Kathy: According to him, Biden already lost worse than Mondale. In some of his recent rallies he’s claimed he won all 50 states in 2020. To my knowledge, though, he hasn’t elucidated whether or not he won DC.

  10. Kurtz says:

    One Trump adviser says that they had privately told the ex-president and presumptive 2024 GOP nominee to anticipate an electoral “knife fight to the death” on, and likely in the wake of, Election Day.

    An advisor using this metaphor is unsurprising but disconcerting.

  11. Kevin says:

    @Kylopod: He might decide to step down; he’s proven in the past to be a stickler for the rules. On the other hand, from everything I’ve read, he absolutely loathes Trump. That might overcome his desire to follow the rules, depending on the circumstances.

    At some level, though, and we ran into this with Trump, the President doesn’t have any say over who the President is. If Biden doesn’t step down, but the system decides he’s no longer the president (can’t remember how that’s determined, but it’s not like there’s a special crown Biden has that he has to turn over), he isn’t the President. Is his Secret Service detail supposed to engage in a shootout with the incoming President’s Secret Service detail?

    Trump’s made it clear that if elected, he’ll do his damndest to put loyalists in as many positions of power as possible, including ones that historically haven’t been political; Biden has no such power base that I’m aware of. Our system really relies on people being some level of honorable.

  12. gVOR10 says:


    And you think Biden would agree to step down under those circumstances?

    What option would he have? Call out the military? To do what? Take it to a 6-3 SCOTUS? It likely would have visited SCOTUS on its way to the House. After 2020 SCOTUS ruled against Trump in some election cases. But none of those cases would have changed the result. The Supremes would have been throwing away their legitimacy for nothing. And evading responsibility while deciding the outcome by throwing it to the House, pretending not to know what the House would do, is a signature Roberts move. (Shelby County, Dobbs, the CO ballot case) Biden would have little realistic choice but to do what Gore did in 2000 and concede gracefully.

    “Oppenheimer” ends with Einstein wrapped in thought contemplating Oppenheimer’s concern that while they didn’t light the atmosphere on fire with the Trinity test, they may have lit a fire that would yet destroy the world. The banksters didn’t set out before 2008 to destroy the financial system, yet they did. Koch and the boys may not have set out to destroy democracy, yet they may do so.

  13. Kylopod says:


    After 2020 SCOTUS ruled against Trump in some election cases. But none of those cases would have changed the result.

    Texas v. Pennsylvania would have changed the results if it had been ruled in Trump’s favor.

  14. Kathy says:


    What option would he have?

    A coup.

    But I don’t think he’d go that way.

  15. Rick DeMent says:


    And you think Biden would agree to step down under those circumstances?

    What other choice would he have? If they manage to get the question to the HoR, then it’s all legal like. Biden would then be the insurrectionist.

  16. CSK says:

    Back in August 2020 Trump was saying that if he lost in November 2020 it would be because the election was rigged. He’s suggesting the same thing now, in March 2024 about November 2024. That’s seven months in advance of the election.

    Over this past weekend, Charlie Kirk said that if Trump loses this coming November, it’ll be time to bring out the guns and start fighting.

  17. Kylopod says:

    @CSK: He said the same thing in 2016.

    Wallace: Mr. Trump…. You’ve been warning at rallies recently that this election is rigged and that Hillary Clinton is in the process of trying to steal it from you. Your running mate Governor Pence pledged on Sunday that he and you, his words, will absolutely accept the result of this election. Today your daughter Ivanka said the same thing. I want to ask you here on the stage tonight, do you make the same commitment that you’ll absolutely accept the result of the election?

    Trump: I will look at it at the time.

  18. CSK says:


    Trump may have thought that if the implied threat worked for him in 2016, it would work in 2020 and will work in 2024.