Trump voters must respect outcome, even if he won't


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Donald Trump has said many irresponsible and dangerous things over the course of this long and bitterly fought presidential campaign that, thankfully, is now less than three weeks from being over.

His bigoted talk of deporting all Mexicans living and working in this country and banning all Muslims from immigrating here was both irresponsible and dangerous. So was his off-the-cuff musing about allowing Japan, Saudi Arabia and other countries dependent on U.S. military aid to have their own nuclear weapons. His continuing defense of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, which at times borders on a man crush, is also dangerous. As is his rhetoric on a host of other issues — everything from renegotiating the national debt, to punishing women who have abortions, and changing the nation’s libel laws so he can successfully sue his critics in the media.

While all of those things demonstrate a recklessness unprecedented in a modern-day presidential candidate, Trump’s recent statements that the election is somehow being rigged against him and that he might not accept the election results if he loses on Nov. 8 are some of the most dangerous.

Accepting defeat after a presidential election is a long tradition of American democracy that goes all the way back to John Adams, the first loser of a U.S. presidential race, which, by the way, was also bitterly fought. The idea of a candidate saying, in advance of the election, that he might not accept its results is something that happens in a Third World country attempting to act like a democracy, not the country that’s supposed to set the standard for democracy. Questioning the election outcome has the potential to be the electoral equivalent of shouting “fire” in a crowded theater -- inciting voters already unhappy with the result to take drastic action to try and correct it.

Trump’s aides and children, and even his own running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, claim that, of course, the Republican candidate for president will accept the election results if he loses. Trump himself, however, has continued to stick to varying versions of what he said during last week’s final presidential debate with Hillary Clinton: that his acceptance of the results is conditional on how he feels about the outcome election night. As recently as Friday, Trump mocked what’s supposed to be an essential ingredient of our democracy — the peaceful transition of power -- by saying he would accept the election results “if I win.”

Trump’s defenders, who once again find themselves trying to defend the indefensible, claim that what Trump is saying is no different from what Al Gore did in 2000. They’re referring to when the then-Democratic candidate for president first conceded and then retracted his concession of the election result to George W. Bush after the Republican’s narrow vote lead in Florida on election night cast doubt on the result. There is no comparison, however, between what Gore did and what Trump has threatened to do. Gore’s response was in reaction to actual events — Bush’s razor-thin lead of less than 1,000 votes out of 5.8 million cast in Florida, which automatically triggered a recount under that state’s election law. Gore would eventually concede the result a month later, after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the state of Florida to stop recounting ballots cast in the election. Trump’s threat to contest the election results comes not just before election night, but long before the first vote has been cast in the majority of states.

Trump’s threat to not accept the results is based on his equally dangerous contention that the election is being rigged in Clinton’s favor. This is a ridiculous claim and has no basis in reality. Presidential elections are decentralized, with each of the 50 states responsible for conducting its own election. Each county within those states conducts the election, using poll workers drawn from both major political parties. Any discrepancy in voting arising on election day can be dealt with in real time, and there are canvases after the election to verify the vote totals before they become official. What’s more, Trump’s own political party controls the election process in 29 of the 50 states, including in North Carolina. It’s improbable that Republican election officials would be rigging elections to favor Clinton -- as many of them have tried to tell their presidential candidate in advising him to stop making the claim.

Additionally, Trump’s contention about election-rigging is based in part on the false claim that voter fraud is rampant. In fact, scientific studies show zero evidence of widespread, systematic voter fraud he claims is taking place. In one study, a Loyola Law School professor found only 31 known cases of impersonation fraud out of 1 billion votes cast in all American elections between 2000 and 2014.

By complaining the election’s rigged and that he’ll question the election’s outcome, it’s clear that Trump, who’s not used to losing, is concerned that will happen on Nov. 8. And there’s objective evidence to suggest he’s right to be concerned. Based on demographics and voting trends, any Republican vying for the presidency already faces a narrow path to winning.

We don’t expect Trump to stop saying the election’s rigged or to change his mind and say he’ll accept, win or lose, the outcome of the Nov. 8 election. That’s not who Donald Trump is. We can only appeal to the voters who believe he’s the best candidate for president and are planning to vote for him. If Trump is not successful on Nov. 8, we hope that they will uphold the strong democratic traditions of our great country and accept the result.