It is Wednesday morning, November 4, 2020. At 7:15 a.m., after a stressful night of watching the returns trickle in, the Associated Press projects that the Democratic presidential candidate will win Pennsylvania, and, with it, the presidency. Sure enough, it’s a narrow victory—279 electoral votes to 258. When all is said and done, the Democrat wins Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania by only about 77,000 votes combined, the same amount Trump won those states by in 2016.

Donald Trump, who spent the past five months warning about fraud, has been eerily silent for most of the night. But as soon as the Democrat takes the stage to give her victory speech, he unleashes a barrage of tweets claiming that over 100,000 illegal immigrants voted in Michigan and that Philadelphia kept its polls open for hours later than allowed. “Without PHONY voters, I really won!” he tweets. “This is FRAUD!” Needless to say, the president does not call to congratulate his opponent. At an afternoon press conference, Trump’s press secretary announces he will not concede…

“In the best-case scenario, key Republicans would either talk him down or defect from Trump and say, ‘He’s wrong,’ ” Levitsky said. Most of the academics I spoke with also thought that this was likely. “I’m just having trouble wrapping my head around even this polarized and often radicalized Republican Party going along with that,” said Mickey. “This is kind of the limit condition of scenarios and surprise.”

But they acknowledged that defections were far from guaranteed. “Trump is still far and away the most popular Republican,” Levitsky said. “If Sean Hannity is claiming fraud on television and Rush Limbaugh is claiming fraud and Mitch McConnell is not willing to stand up and say, ‘No, there was no fraud,’ then we could have a real crisis.”