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What if Donald Trump loses the presidential election and refuses to concede defeat?

Oct 17, 2016

Someone asked me, what if Donald Trump loses the presidential election and refuses to concede defeat?

Well, legally, it doesn’t make any difference whatsoever.

From time to time, we’ve had Michigan candidates who didn’t have the grace to face their supporters and congratulate their opponents.

Geoffrey Fieger never formally conceded his race for governor. Neither did Terri Lynn Land when she was defeated by Gary Peters for the U.S. Senate two years ago. But both lost badly, the state certified the results, and that was that.

However, I can’t think of a case where someone running for president refused to concede.

The candidate who may have had the most reason to be bitter, Democrat Al Gore, gave perhaps the classiest of all concession speeches, after the U.S. Supreme Court intervened to effectively award the presidency to George W. Bush sixteen years ago.

"Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I'm with you, Mr. President, and God bless you." - Al Gore

Gore had won the national popular vote, and it is pretty clear that more people in the disputed state of Florida intended to vote for him, but were thwarted by hanging chads and the  butterfly ballot. He had every right to think he had been robbed.

But instead he quoted Stephen Douglas, who, in conceding to Abraham Lincoln said, “Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I’m with you, Mr. President, and God bless you.”

John McCain was just as gracious when he conceded to President Obama eight years ago. Both men pledged to support the winner, and urged their supporters to accept the result. But this year, we have something different and potentially frightening.

Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, has been charging that the election is being rigged, and has essentially said that the only way he can lose is if it is stolen.

That has led to some scary remarks by his supporters.

A 50-year-old contractor in Cincinnati told the Boston Globe that if Hillary Clinton wins, “I hope we can start a coup.” He added “we’re going to have a revolution and take them out of office. There’s going to be a lot of bloodshed.”

Contrast that to eight years ago, when a supporter at a rally told John McCain that she was afraid of Barack Obama, and that he was an “Arab.” McCain responded by saying “no ma’am, he’s not. He’s a decent family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with.”

Sadly, it’s hard to imagine his party’s nominee doing that today.

Now there is one thing on which responsible members of both parties agree: This election is not going to be rigged.

Now there is one thing on which responsible members of both parties agree: This election is not going to be rigged.

Michigan, by the way, has long had one of the cleanest vote-counting operations in the country. Democrat Dianne Byrum asked for a recount in 2000 after she lost a race for Congress in the Lansing area by barely a hundred votes, but called off the recount before it was finished, when it was clear little was going to change.

Nationally, many states have moved to clean up their voting systems in the aftermath of the mess in Florida. Since 1800, one of our best traditions has been that we accept the results of our elections, no matter how disappointed we may be.

Since the Civil War, we’ve never had to fear violence from those who didn’t like the result. It would be a tragedy beyond measure if that were ever to change.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.