Former President Donald Trump, shown here in a 2016 file photo, is still claiming the 2020 election was "rigged." (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
In an election, all the attention is on the winners. That’s normal. Our expectations are focused on what candidates will do if they win.
But this year, maybe for the first time, we need to be clear about our expectations for the candidates who fall short on Election Day. These would-be public servants have a job to do after the election that is just as important – or maybe even more important – than the winners’ role.
That job is to accept the election results once the votes are counted, encourage their supporters to do the same, and then step aside. Our democracy depends on it.
This used to go without saying. Occasionally, we’d remark on an especially gracious concession speech or take note when someone served up an especially bitter helping of sour grapes. But even when the 2000 presidential race had to be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court, Al Gore eventually conceded and there was a peaceful transfer of power.
Donald Trump changed all of that. His refusal to accept the results of the 2020 presidential race spawned violent insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, not to mention a raft of baseless legal challenges that dragged on for months.
The former president, who said last week in Iowa that he was “very, very, very probably” going to run again in 2024, continued to insist that he actually won in 2020. He falsely claimed during his Sioux City rally that Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and “so many states” have now concluded the election was “rigged.” They haven’t. But most of Trump’s followers believe it.
Polls show that most Republicans – 67% in a Monmouth University poll this fall — still agree with Trump that the 2020 election was stolen. Even more disturbing, reports show more than half of the Republicans on the ballot for U.S. House, Senate and key statewide officials have denied or questioned the 2020 outcome.
Some of those, including U.S. Senate candidates from North Carolina, Arizona, Alaska and Ohio, and gubernatorial candidates in Arizona, Michigan and Massachusetts, have not committed to accepting election results if they lose. Some election deniers in other states are running for offices that oversee elections.
More than 100 lawsuits have already been filed around the country, according to the Associated Press, challenging aspects of the Nov. 8 elections, ranging from absentee ballots and early voting to voting machines and voter registration.
The potential consequences for this week’s midterms – and democracy itself – should concern every American.
This isn’t about making sure the votes are counted. Candidates have every right to call for recounts in the case of very close election results or genuine irregularities. The 2020 race in Iowa’s 2nd District came down to six votes in favor of Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks. It was the end of March before Democrat Rita Hart dropped her final challenge. It may have gone on longer than many Iowans would like, but at least Hart has not been traveling the state undermining confidence in elections.
There may be some photo finishes again this year. It’s important for all of us to be patient as votes are counted and canvassed. Dreaming up conspiracy theories, spreading misinformation on social media or trying to hassle election workers will not change the outcome.
This is not about Election Day speeches, although a formal concession still sends a strong message to supporters that the contest is over. We can’t force anyone to be gracious – but we should judge the sore losers accordingly and remember their conduct if they try to run again.
This is about trusting the voters and accepting election results once the votes are counted. Candidates who drag out baseless challenges and undermine the election process are not ones we could ever count on to uphold our state and federal constitutions. They are showing us their true colors – and they’re not red, white and blue.
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