When asked by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace during a presidential debate if he would absolutely accept the results of the 2016 general election, President Donald Trump responded by stating that he would “look at it at the time.” In a debate with his 2020 opponent President-elect Joe Biden, Trump responded in a similar regard, causing voters to fear that regardless of the election results Trump would refuse to accept the results of the election.
Now, these fears appear to have actualized with President Trump refusing to concede his loss to President-elect Joe Biden.
Biden has already won the popular vote by over 5 million votes and the electoral college vote with 306 votes, cementing his position as the president-elect. Yet unlike all of his predecessors, President Trump has refused to gracefully step down from power and has instead filed frivolous lawsuits contesting the results of the election and demanding recounts. Furthermore, he has turned to Twitter to accuse Democrats of perpetuating voter fraud through mail-in ballots, while the fraud rate for mail-in-voting is reported to be a mere 0.0025%.
The issue with Donald Trump’s actions is not the fact that he has demanded recounts in close states. Recounts are a frequent part of the election process, especially in states and counties where the margin of victory for one candidate is narrow. If the results had Trump emerge as the victor, the Democrats would have probably wanted recounts as confirmation of the accuracy of the vote.
Yet, there is a distinction between Trump asking for recounts to ensure accuracy of results and him touting baseless allegations of voter fraud when the results do not work in his favor. What makes Trump’s behavior so dangerous is his absolute disregard for voter preferences and the doubts that he is casting on our democratic institutions. Trump’s unfounded accusations of fraudulent mail-in votes coupled with his constant demands to suppress vote counting on Twitter indicate how he has absolutely no respect for democratic traditions. The irony of the president’s behavior is that, while he and the Republican Party have cast doubts on Biden turning into a radical socialist dictator, Trump’s refusal to step down after the election has been called is a hallmark of the authoritarian tradition that the Republicans so heavily fear.
What makes the controversy even more appalling is the lack of condemnation of Trump’s actions from his own party. While the Republican Sens. John McCain and Mitt Romney both peacefully conceded after losing to former President Barack Obama, the current Republican Party has only condoned Trump’s comments. Only four out of 53 Senate Republicans congratulated Biden on his victory. Others, such as Sen. Ron Johnson, believe that there is no reason to congratulate Biden as they stand by their baseless assertion that Trump may not have actually lost the election.
“I’m not alleging anything because I have no proof,” Johnson said according to the Associated Press. “All I’m saying is there are enough irregularities [to raise concerns].”
There were not enough irregularities to raise concern, according to the Associated Press.
By failing to accept the election results, it is clear that conservatives have placed party over principle, and have substantially diverged from the norms and peaceful practices that make up the very backbone of our democracy. If the entire Republican Party refuses to concede elections simply on the grounds that their preferred candidate did not win, then this wholly undermines the trust in voters that is central to preserving our democracy.
The consequences of Trump’s and the Republican Party’s actions to democracy are paramount. Not only has Trump’s actions caused voters to have doubts about the results of this election, but his behavior also sets the precedent for voters to continually doubt any future elections that do not wind up in their favor.
Varshini Srikanthan is an Opinion Intern for the 2020 Fall Quarter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.