On Friday’s episode of “Real Time,” Bill Maher’s top-of-the-show guest was Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel and prominent critic of both U.S. foreign policy and Donald Trump. And during a discussion of one of Maher’s favorite topics — his worry that Trump might not honor the election results if he loses in November — Wilkerson broke down some worst case scenarios.
Wilkerson is a member of two bipartisan task forces dedicated to election integrity, including one that recently held “war games” to figure out just how such an unthinkable scenario might play out. As Maher noted, it’s a particularly “urgent” question since recently, Trump hinted in an interview with Chris Wallace that he might not uphold the election results if he loses — in other words, the President of the United States suggested he might conduct a cop d’etat.
Wilkerson explained that the Transition Integrity Project, which conduced the ‘war games,’ included “some really high-powered political analysts, scholars and others playing the Republicans,” many of which are Republicans, and “Democrats playing the Dems.”
According to Wilkerson, the group gamed out several different scenarios for how things could go based on specific circumstances of the election. “One that you might suspect is a complete Biden Blowout. That is to say, Electoral College and popular vote, Biden wins. Then what does the Trump team do?” he said. “Another one, as you might surmise also, and very difficult and complex, is where there is really a lot of closeness. A lot of indecision. Maybe a popular vote one way and electoral college vote in other way. Or possibly even no way to determine and it’s thrust into the House of Representatives. So different scenarios, different reactions from each team.”
On disturbing thing Wilkerson relayed to Maher was that “when the Republican team got the scenario ‘decisive Biden win’ and threw its moves out there, the Democratic team was stunned by the arrogance, the sheer power and the sheer indecency, if you will, of the Trump team moves. Everything from, Okay, we got 70 days to destroy the United States government. We’ve got 70 days in which to not provide the incoming team with any transition whatsoever; You want to know what our policy is on Iran, on China, on taxes, you won’t know it because we’ve destroyed all the paperwork and we won’t let anyone brief you. You are coming into an empty White House.”
“There’ll be no national security council staff, nothing to brief you,” Wilkerson continued. “You might have a note in your desk drawer in the West Wing that says, ‘Welcome, you stupid idiot.'”
Wilkerson said those tactics prompted the Democratic side of the games to come “back with moves that were mostly realistic, mostly not powerful, mostly not dramatic,” and he said the lesson learned was “hey, you Democrats, you can’t be so timid.”
The Republicans may be quite ruthless. They may be quite strategic. They may be quite arrogant with their power. Another insight here: if you own the government, you have a considerable advantage over those who don’t.
Then Maher asked “what does the military do… I know people say that can’t happen here. Okay, everything anyone always said can’t happen here, has happened here. It could happen here. Now, I know that there’s a breakdown between the top leadership — I think they’re much more anti-Trump, but I’ve heard you talk about people in the ranks who are like literally neo-Nazis.”
To that, Wilkerson pointed to the recent, infamous use of U.S. military personnel to disperse lawful protesters from Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. in order to allow a Trump photo opp, and the apologies days later by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, and Joint Cheifs chairman Mark Milley, who both appeared in the photo.
“I recommend [Milley’s speech] to every American citizen,” Wilkerson said. “The speech essentially said, ‘I shouldn’t have gone,’ and it explained to all the military officers listening what his view of the Constitution was and so forth, which was quite good. I also happen to know that about 300 flag officers — that’s generals and admirals — weighed in, active duty and retired, afterwards to let Mark Milley know that he’d done the right thing. So at that level, the command level, we’re probably in pretty good shape. But as you suggested, there are a lot of people in the ranks, particularly the staff sergeant and below ranks, that I’m not so sure about. Many of them voted for Trump.”
Wilkerson said that in his understanding, a lot of support for Trump in the military is “falling away,” largely due to how the administration has dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 150,000 Americans, by far the absolute worst handling in the developed world. “I do think, as a military professional, the military will quote stay in barracks unquote.”
That said, Wilkerson added that he wonders what will happen “if Trump calls his base to the streets with their guns,” who he said “owns something like 60 to 70 percent of the 300-400 million guns in America.”
“If they answer that call and come to the streets with guns, then we probably are going to have a need for the military. And then all bets are off as to how much blood might flow,” he said.
Maher asked if there’s a risk that members of the U.S. military could be part of “a faction” that might join those people. “There are some,” Wilkerson said,” citing an example of a soldier he says recently confessed in an email he would be willing to shoot a fellow soldier who is Muslim in the back during combat.
Wilkerson ended on a positive note, explaining that another group he’s part of is working on ways to bring Americans together. Good luck with that, sincerely.