‘All the red flags’: Political analysts warn of U.S. election violence in November

Key Points
  • During Tuesday's debate, President Trump again cited unfounded claims about mail-in ballots leading to widespread voter fraud in justifying his reluctance to accept the election result should he lose.
  • The president also refused to disavow White supremacists and militia groups in his corner, telling the Proud Boys — a violent, all-male far-right extremist group — to "stand back and stand by."
Clashes between protesters and armed civilians in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August.
Tayfun Coskun | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

With President Donald Trump refusing to commit to a peaceful transition of power in the event that he loses the election and clashes already unfolding in some states, political analysts are uniquely fearful as November approaches.

Asked last week to commit to conceding should the Nov. 3 election go in favor of Democrat Joe Biden, Trump doubled down on his unfounded claims about mail-in ballots leading to widespread voter fraud in justifying his reluctance.

He reiterated this during Tuesday night's chaotic presidential debate, calling mail-in voting a "disaster" and again suggesting that he would not accept a result that goes against him.

Biden and Trump's fiery first debate—Here are the highlights

The president also refused to disavow White supremacists and militia groups in his corner, telling the Proud Boys — a violent, all-male far-right extremist group — to "stand back and stand by." He instead directed his ire at antifa and "far-left" groups.

The comment was interpreted across the group's social media pages as marching orders, according to NBC News, and the Proud Boys have already made T-shirts available emblazoned with Trump's words. The Proud Boys were classified as an extremist group by the FBI in 2018.

Trump walked back his remarks on Wednesday, claiming he did not know who the Proud Boys were and instructing them to "stand down and let law enforcement do their work."

University College London professor Brian Klaas told CNBC ahead of the debate that Trump's tactics bear "the hallmarks of undemocratic countries" and said he would not be surprised if violence broke out in the aftermath of a close election. A spokesperson for the Trump campaign was not immediately available when CNBC reached out for comment.

Trump's tactics 'hallmarks of undemocratic countries,' says political scientist

"All the red flags that you see in other countries that have political violence are being raised in the United States right now, and you are getting extremely incendiary rhetoric from the president himself," Klaas told CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe" last Friday, adding that mail-in voting has long been a part of U.S. elections with high levels of integrity.

"But he is convincing his supporters, which is tens of millions of people, that if he loses, that it is because the election will be rigged, which is false. I worry that if there is a close result, a contested result, that he will call on his supporters to take action," added Klaas, a professor of global politics.

Supreme Court fight

Klaas suggested that the likelihood of political violence is dependent on the electoral margins, with an "unequivocal" Biden victory making it less plausible for Trump to seek to alter the result via the Supreme Court.

Central to the latter scenario is the Republican push to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Judge Amy Coney Barrett before Election Day, a move that would give the court a 6-3 conservative tilt.

Democrats and some Republicans have suggested that Barrett should recuse herself from any election-related cases if confirmed prior to Nov. 3. However, Republicans are expected to have enough Senate votes to force through her appointment.

The loser of the debate was the American people: Strategist

Trump and fellow Republicans have argued that the GOP's retention of the Senate in the 2018 mid-term elections gives the incumbent administration the mandate to select the next justice, where Democrats believe installing a justice now removes the electorate's right to choose. 

Republicans blocked a vote on former President Barack Obama's 2016 Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, on the basis that it was an election year, and the nomination came almost nine months before the vote. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said at the time that "the American people should have a voice" and that the vacancy "should not be filled until we have a new president."

Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia's Miller Center, also argues that Barrett should recuse herself from any involvement of the Supreme Court in the electoral process, with voting having already begun in a number of states.

"I think this would be very much like the Watergate tapes case in 1974 which really pushed Richard Nixon out of office, as well it should have, where then Associate Justice William Rehnquist recused himself because he had worked in the Nixon administration in the Justice Department," she told CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe."

US election could tilt to Trump's favor if Barrett is confirmed: Professor

However, she noted that there is no official obligation for Barrett to do so. Politico reported Tuesday that in a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire, Barrett has indicated she will not pledge to remove herself from cases relating to the 2020 election.

"If this all comes down to one state, which right now is looking like potentially Florida or Pennsylvania, those sort of swing states that are very closely contested, then we could have a battle in the courts and that is when the type of rhetoric gets so dangerous. The closer it is, the more the rhetoric matters," Klaas said.