3 Reasons Trump’s Refusal To Accept Election Results Matters


Does it matter whether Donald Trump accepts the election results?

Trump raised the issue himself in the week prior to the third presidential debate by calling the polls wrong, and the election and the media rigged. When Chris Wallace of Fox News asked Trump whether he would accept the results of a duly certified election, Trump demurred. “What I’m saying now is I will tell you at the time,” Trump said. “I will keep you in suspense, okay?”

Well, not okay.

There are plenty of ways to question the impact of voter fraud. Trump could have said that voter fraud has decided elections before, and if there is evidence of voter fraud, of course he’ll use the legal process to challenge it. He could have explained that close elections bring lots of questions, and those questions have been made more urgent by the James O’Keefe tape showing parties associated with the Clinton campaign openly bragging about voter fraud strategy.

And there are plenty of ways to claim that our elections are “rigged” in the non-specific sense. Trump could have parroted Mike Pence’s line that “rigged” meant only that the media are wildly biased against Trump (true). He could have said that events have been manipulated by the DNC via the use of instigators to draw or practice violence. He could even have stated that the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton was clearly rigged to ensure her continued presidential run.

Instead, he implied that the only reason he could lose is through a stolen election.

There are three dangers to this sort of language.

1. Duly Certified Elections Matter. If people believe that elections no longer matter, that votes don’t count, that elections themselves are rigged, there is no escape valve for the steam that builds up in any politically diverse society. Democrats should know – they made the same case after the 2000 election. Hillary Clinton herself said in 2002 that George W. Bush was “selected” rather than elected; she nodded along last week as a crowd chanted that Al Gore had “won” that election. The impact was deep and abiding: a loss of trust in the institutional mechanism of elections, a belief that George W. Bush was not America’s president and that all of his actions were therefore illegitimate. Whenever Democrats complain about the level of rancor and vitriol directed at Barack Obama, they ought to remember that the age of modern vitriol truly ratcheted up after the 2000 election, thanks to Al Gore’s pathetic refusal to accept duly certified results in Florida.

2. It Discredits The Anti-Voter Fraud Case. Trump seems to make no distinction between a close election and a blowout in his language. Because Trump continues to claim that polls are lying, he’ll therefore presumably challenge the legitimacy of an election in which he loses in landslide fashion – after all, he was running close (remember: the polls don’t matter) and then the bottom fell out thanks to massive fraud. This actually undermines the anti-voter fraud case. Voter fraud is a serious problem, but it does not represent hundreds of thousands or millions of votes. Trump smearing a worthy cause – verifying the legitimacy of voters – with foolish talk about how even blowouts aren’t real actually makes the anti-voter fraud case look kooky.

3. Trump Intends To Create a Grievance Movement. The real goal of Trump’s language here is clear: he wants a civil war inside the Republican Party upon which he can capitalize, both politically and fiscally. Trump says that election results are a lie; the media rigged this thing, and the politicians worked with them. This means that only a new media outlet with political will can defeat the rigged system. Enter Trump TV. It’s no coincidence that Trump debuted an early iteration of Trump TV last night during the debate on Facebook. It drew up to 200,000 contemporaneous viewers; over the course of the evening, the stream drew nearly 9 million views. Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign CEO, essentially admitted yesterday that Trump is thinking beyond the election: “Trump is an entrepreneur.” Even a few hundred thousand subscribers would put Trump in rich territory. All he has to do is keep pushing the myth that he’ll be the answer to all the rigging.

Is civil war going to break out because Trump doesn’t accept election results? No – that’s silly talk from a media eager to pretend that Trump’s supporters are on the verge of violence. But Trump’s own silly talk does matter.