So what are the governance challenges that mean we won’t want a Trump administration asleep at the switch through the transition? One is that another round of coronavirus relief is necessary now and will continue to be necessary if it hasn’t been passed before the election. Trump has already been lackadaisical in his efforts to get Republicans in Congress to approve another round of relief, and it’s hard to see him being more engaged in that project if he loses the election. The president has, when so inclined, been somewhat successful at finding ways to use executive authority to provide economic relief — for example, repurposing disaster-relief funds to partially extend the enhanced unemployment benefits that expired at the end of July. But if the president is checked out and no longer sees political advantage in boosting the economy, he could refuse such steps during the two and a half months of transition, just as Bush could have pushed GM and Chrysler into insolvency if he had been so inclined. So one major risk of the transition is weak federal support for the economy.
Then there are the public-health challenges. Trump has been pushing the FDA — with mixed success — to move in various directions on drugs and vaccines, mostly in an effort to speed their availability, or at least their announced approval. In theory, Trump could start putting his finger on the scale in the opposite direction; he could also continue to try to interfere in CDC recommendations about public health. But I’m not that worried about this prospect, because Trump’s interventions in public-health policy have already been of such poor quality. To the extent that he gets bored of interfering with these agencies, he’s likely to make it easier for them to do their jobs well and to work with the incoming Biden team. This is a major contrast with the economic aspects of the coronavirus response, in which Trump’s governing actions have often been a major net positive, most notably his push for Republicans in Congress to support the CARES Act in the spring.