Even if Mr. Trump somehow pulled off his electoral vote switch, there are other safeguards in place, assuming people in power do not simply bend to the president’s will.
The first test will be Michigan, where Mr. Trump is trying to get the State Legislature to overturn Mr. Biden’s 157,000-vote margin of victory. He has taken the extraordinary step of inviting a delegation of state Republican leaders to the White House, hoping to persuade them to ignore the popular vote outcome.
“That’s not going to happen,” Mike Shirkey, the Republican leader of the Michigan State Senate, said on Tuesday. “We are going to follow the law and follow the process.”
Beyond that, Michigan’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, could send Congress a competing electoral slate, based on the election vote, arguing that the proper procedures were ignored. That dispute would create just enough confusion, in Mr. Trump’s Hail Mary calculus, that the House and Senate together would have to resolve it in ways untested in modern times.
Federal law dating to 1887, passed in reaction to the Hayes election, provides the framework, but not specifics, of how it would be done. Edward B. Foley, a constitutional law and election law expert at Ohio State University, noted that the law only required Congress to consider all submissions “purporting to be the valid electoral votes.”
But Michigan alone would not be enough for Mr. Trump. He would also need at least two other states to fold to his pressure. The most likely candidates are Georgia and Arizona, which both went for Mr. Trump in 2016 and have Republican-controlled legislatures and Republican governors.
Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona has said he will accept the state election results, although only after all the campaign lawsuits are resolved. Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, where a hand recount reaffirmed Mr. Biden’s victory on Thursday, has not publicly said one way or another who won his state.
Mr. Trump has said little in public apart from tweets endorsing wild conspiracy theories about how he was denied victory. Yet his strategy, if it can be called that, has become clear over two days of increasingly frenetic action by a president 62 days from losing power.
In just that time, Mr. Trump has fired the federal election officialwho has challenged his false claims of fraud, tried to halt the vote-certification process in Detroit to disenfranchise an overwhelmingly Black electorate that voted against him, and now is misusing the powers of his office in his effort to take Michigan’s 16 electoral votes away from Mr. Biden.
In many ways it is even more of an attempted power grab than the one in 1876. At the time, Hayes was governor of Ohio, not president of the United States. Ulysses S. Grant was, and when Hayes won — also by wrenching the vote around in three states — he became known as “His Fraudulency.”
“But this is far worse,” said Michael Beschloss, the presidential historian and author of “Presidents of War.” “In the case of Hayes, both sides agreed that the outcome in at least three states was in dispute. In this case, no serious person thinks enough votes are in dispute that Donald Trump could have been elected on Election Day.”
“This is a manufactured crisis. It is a president abusing his huge powers in order to stay in office after the voters clearly rejected him for re-election.”