Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Brooks: What’s the worst that could happen?

In today’s Washington Post, Rosa Brooks (Georgetown University) further discusses the findings and implications of four recent crisis games examining potential challenges arising from the 2020 US presedential election:

We wanted to know: What’s the worst thing that could happen to our country during the presidential election? President Trump has broken countless norms and ignored countless laws during his time in office, and while my colleagues and I at the Transition Integrity Project didn’t want to lie awake at night contemplating the ways the American experiment could fail, we realized that identifying the most serious risks to our democracy might be the best way to avert a November disaster. So we built a series of war games, sought out some of the most accomplished Republicans, Democrats, civil servants, media experts, pollsters and strategists around, and asked them to imagine what they’d do in a range of election and transition scenarios.

With the exception of the “big Biden win” scenario, each of our exercises reached the brink of catastrophe, with massive disinformation campaigns, violence in the streets and a constitutional impasse. In two scenarios (“Trump win” and “extended uncertainty”) there was still no agreement on the winner by Inauguration Day, and no consensus on which candidate should be assumed to have the ability to issue binding commands to the military or receive the nuclear codes. In the “narrow Biden win” scenario, Trump refused to leave office and was ultimately escorted out by the Secret Service — but only after pardoning himself and his family and burning incriminating documents.

For obvious reasons, we couldn’t ask Trump or Biden — or their campaign aides — to play themselves in these exercises, so we did the next best thing: We recruited participants with similar backgrounds. On the GOP side, our “players” included former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele, conservative commentator Bill Kristol and former Kentucky secretary of state Trey Grayson. On the Democratic side, participants included John Podesta, chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and a top White House adviser to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama; Donna Brazile, the campaign chair for Al Gore’s 2000 presidential run; and Jennifer Granholm, former governor of Michigan. Other participants included political strategists, journalists, polling experts, tech and social media experts, and former career officials from the intelligence community, the Justice Department, the military and the Department of Homeland Security.

It is all rather dire stuff, although Brooks ends on a hopdeful note:

But there’s some good news: This kind of exercise doesn’t predict the future. In fact, war-gaming seeks to forecast all the things that could go wrong — precisely to prevent them from happening in real life. And if the Transition Integrity Project’s exercises highlighted various bleak possibilities, they also suggested some ways we might, as a nation, avoid democratic collapse.

For more on the games, see the full Transitions Integrity Project report archived here.

For current poll aggregation and modelling of the US presidential campaign, PAXsims readers may find the following resources useful.


Current (3 September) election prediction from FiveThirtyEight. For the the most recent version, go here.

The Economist

Current (3 September) election prediction from The Economist. For the the most recent version, go here.

2 responses to “Brooks: What’s the worst that could happen?

  1. Krenn 09/09/2020 at 7:33 pm

    If you’re not planning on how to make the worse possible outcome happen, for the most cynical and dystopian reasons you can think of, you’re not really a wargamer.

    The Transition Integrity Project has done good work, here. But the game design could be darker.

    For starters, they really need to include the Judiciary here…. the model I came up for a simplified version of this game was this: “Ask a neutral lawyer playing the judiciary what they WANT a fair and middle-road court system to do in this situation…. and then estimate the odds that such a thing would actually happen. eg 75 or less on 1d100.

    Then roll twice against those odds.
    Two successes, it happens just like the judiciary player wanted.
    Two Failures, pretty much the opposite occured.

    One success, one failure, and at least ONE judge DID attempt to do something like that…. but the moderator gets to choose a reason why things were still problematic. competing rulings, expired deadlines, emergency stays, federal vs state jurisdiction arguments, small but very important discrepancies on minor legal points between what the player wanted vs what the ruling said…. anything along those lines.

    Each rung of the court system generally takes 1 week to climb, give or take. so there’s always room for appeals.

    as another element… I don’t think they included enough outside foreign meddling.

  2. A pg 04/09/2020 at 1:17 pm

    The bias implicated in every sentence here is so over the top it’s ridiculous. First off, polls are neck and neck and many Trump supporters are scared to admit their choice so there is NO reason to assume something nefarious if Trump wins other than democrats will continue to ignore an election and the duly elected president. Second, as of now there has been no evidence of any crime committed by Trump that he needs to pardon himself. To bad Biden is t already in the White House as there seems to be more evidence that his family needs pardoning. Just the implication that Trump needs to pardon himself is poor journalism and unfair. This is just stirring up things to justify continued violence and riots and burning our country down if Trump wins. This article is not rational. And if there is extended uncertainty you can bet it’s exactly the intent of the democrats with this last minute push to change the entire system of voting on very short notice.

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