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Trump is challenging a peaceful transition of power. We should take him at his word

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: President Trump Holds A News Conference At The White House
\President Donald Trump speaks in the press briefing room of the White House on Sept. 23, 2020.Joshua Roberts / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — We’re back to the old 2016 question about Donald Trump: Just how seriously and literally should you take him?

Our advice now — after witnessing his Muslim/travel ban, the wall and that vote-fraud commission (remember that?): Prepare for him to follow through — whether or not he’s successful.

On Wednesday night, Trump wouldn’t commit to a peaceful transfer of power. "We're going to have to see what happens. You know that I have been complaining very strongly about the ballots. And the ballots are a disaster,” he said. “Get rid of the ballots and you'll have a very peaceful — there won't be a transfer frankly. There'll be a continuation.”

Before those remarks, he argued he needed to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat because he believes the election outcome could be decided by the nation’s highest court. “I think this will end up in the Supreme Court. And I think it’s very important that we have nine justices.”

And just in case you think these kinds of thoughts are isolated to Trump himself, here’s this reporting by Barton Gellman in the Atlantic: “According to sources in the Republican Party at the state and national levels, the Trump campaign is discussing contingency plans to bypass election results and appoint loyal electors in battleground states where Republicans hold the legislative majority.”

Trump thrives on taking advantage of ambiguities in the law. And guess what — there are plenty of ambiguities in our election laws.

As Gellman writes, “We are accustomed to choosing electors by popular vote, but nothing in the Constitution says it has to be that way. Article II provides that each state shall appoint electors ‘in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.’ Since the late 19th century, every state has ceded the decision to its voters. Even so, the Supreme Court affirmed in Bush v. Gore that a state ‘can take back the power to appoint electors.’”

So the political world should be taking Trump seriously. Mitt Romney is. Sen. Marco Rubio and Reps. Steve Stivers and Liz Cheney also are out with tweets.

But what about the rest of the GOP?

As Jonathan Last asks in The Bulwark: Who’s willing to bet that Trump will simply walk away if he loses?

“Maybe he won’t be able to pull it off. Maybe Roberts and Gorsuch will stand in the breach. Maybe he’ll wimp out in the end because he’s more of a man-baby than a strongman."

“But just how much are you willing to bet on that? Because if the answer isn’t ‘everything,’ then it’s time to take this man at his word.”

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

6,964,327: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 36,500 more than yesterday morning.)

203,023: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 960 more than yesterday morning.)

97.46 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

More than 200: The number of retired generals and admirals who said in an open letter today that they’re endorsing Biden.

More than 100,000: The number of votes cast early at the polls in Virginia since early in-person voting started Friday.

15 years: The time until California wants to phase out the production of gas-powered cars in the state, per a new executive order by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

2020 Vision: Battleground polls galore!

Lots of battleground polls are out this morning, all among likely voters:

NYT/Siena of Georgia: Biden 45 percent, Trump 45 percent (in the Senate race, it’s GOPer Perdue 41 percent, Dem Ossoff at 38 percent).

NYT/Siena of Iowa: Biden 45 percent, Trump 42 percent (in the Senate race, it’s Dem Greenfield 42 percent, GOPer Ernst at 40 percent).

NYT/Siena of Texas: Trump 46 percent, Biden 43 percent (in the Senate race, it’s GOPer Cornyn 43 percent, Dem Hegar at 37 percent).

Franklin & Marshall of Pennsylvania: Biden 48 percent, Trump 42 percent

On the campaign trail today

President Trump delivers remarks on health care in Charlotte, N.C., at 4:30 p.m. ET, and he later holds a rally in Jacksonville, Fla. Vice President Mike Pence stumps in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Ad Watch from Ben Kamisar

Today’s Ad Watch takes a look at the Colorado Senate race, where new spots from Republican Sen. Cory Gardner and former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper include a blast from the past and a call to action in the present.

Gardner’s campaign just put out a new spot that calls back to Hickenlooper’s iconic (if a bit odd) ad from his 2010 gubernatorial campaign. Gardner uses the Democrat’s old pledge against running negative ads (and the image of the candidate taking a shower to cleanse himself of that negativity) against him to question why Democrats are running attack ads on Gardner now.

At the same time, Hickenlooper’s camp is running a new, direct-to-camera spot on the Supreme Court vacancy, criticizing Gardner for supporting the push to confirm a Trump nominee in the Senate in “lightning speed” (while also taking a shot at the Republican’s health care record).

The Lid: You make me feel so young

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we took a second look at where younger voters stand on the 2020 race.

Shameless plug!

At 8:00 p.m. ET on NBC News Now and Peacock is the debut of “Meet the Press Reports” — with the first episode taking a look at the history of presidential debates.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Check out the “swing the vote” interactive feature that the Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman and NBC’s digital team put together.

Biden is leaning into an economic populist pitch in the final stretch of the 2020 election.

A judge has ordered Eric Trump to sit for a deposition before — not after — the election.

The Florida AG wants an investigation into Mike Bloomberg’s effort to pay fines for former felons in Florida who would be able to vote if freed from their debts.

John Durham has been poking around into past probes of the Clinton Foundation.

Trump is hoping to make a case on health care — but without any clear plan on how he’d protect pre-existing conditions.

Missouri’s governor and his wife have tested positive for coronavirus.

Amy Coney Barrett’s faith has become an early flashpoint for the court frontrunner.