Republicans Follow Trump Down a Dangerous Path

Josey MacDonald, Reporter

The presidential election was nearly four weeks ago, but the drama and tension surrounding the race has not yet dissipated. Joe Biden’s margin of victory in the popular vote was millions more than Hillary Clinton’s in 2016, but in many key electoral states his lead was within one or two percent. Recounts in states with close margins and the refusal of most Republicans to concede have dragged the election far past Nov. 3. 

Despite losing by 58 electoral college votes and more than six million popular votes, President Trump has refused to acknowledge that he lost the election. Instead, he has taken to Twitter to express his frustration, spread lies about the election being rigged, and claim that Biden’s win is only validated by the media. His indignance has spread among his supporters despite the fact that there is no evidence of fraud or election insecurities. 

The losing candidate’s concession has been a tradition since the election of 1800. No modern presidential candidate has ever refused to concede. In a normal year, there would be a phone call between the two candidates, a media statement by the loser, and a formal meeting between the president and the president-elect at the White House. These actions are not just ceremonial. They mark the beginning of the transfer of power and signal to the public that this process is underway. 

Concessions have occurred even after the closest, most divisive races. In the election of 2000, which went to the Supreme Court and was ultimately decided by a mere 537 votes, Al Gore decided to end the fight and concede to George W. Bush. Gore stated the election was “resolved as it must be resolved through the honored institutions of our democracy.” During one of the most divided moments in our nation’s history, just prior to the Civil War, Democratic candidate Stephen Douglas conceded to Abraham Lincoln. Instead of rallying his pro-slavery supporters, Douglas did his best to unite the nation and said, “We must try to save the Union.” 

The 2020 election was nowhere near as close as the 2000 election, but Trump has no intention of prioritizing unity. He has been acting like the election is not over, tweeting things like “we have a long way to go,” and “WE WILL WIN!” These types of false and misleading messages suggest that Trump believes the election should be determined not by the votes of citizens, but by his legal team. Trump is challenging the most important aspect of democracy – voting. 

President Trump amid supporters at a rally. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Of course, this is not a surprise. None of us expected Trump to concede. His plan to challenge the results was apparent months before the election. Since the final presidential debate in 2016, when he was first asked whether he would concede, Trump has made repeated statements implying he would not accept a loss. What’s much more concerning is the number of Republicans that are continuing to stand by him. 

Republicans performed well in the election despite Trump’s loss. They gained House seats and, assuming they win at least one of the January runoffs in Georgia, have held onto the Senate. In Montana, Republicans swept the ticket, winning every major race. In Maine, a state which Biden won by 9 percentage points, Republican Senator Susan Collins was reelected, also by 9 percentage points. The results of the election have given Republicans an opportunity to distance themselves from Trump and redefine their party. They haven’t.

The Republican Party’s loyalty to Trump is probably due in large part to the upcoming Senate runoff race in Georgia this January. Republican officials likely believe that they need Trump’s energy to mobilize the Republican base. Few Republicans want to cross the President at such an important moment and risk losing their majority in the Senate. In the same way that Democrats have bridged the gap between moderates and progressives by uniting against Trump, Republicans have found unity behind him. 

The Republicans’ refusal to concede reflects the deep partisan divisions that currently define American politics. It’s quite possible that Republicans have a genuine fear of Democrats (fed by Fox News and social media algorithms) and are more concerned with keeping a Senate majority than honoring democratic institutions. Political disagreements have extended beyond policy issues into something much deeper and harder to bridge. According to Pew Research Center, a month before the election, 8 in 10 registered voters said their differences with the opposing party were about “core American values,” and 9 in 10 said the opposing party would do “lasting harm” if elected. The coronavirus pandemic has only increased this division and strengthened each side’s distrust in the other.

It’s also possible that Republican politicians believe it would look bad and hurt their chances of reelection if they suddenly went against Trump after four years of standing by his every move. The Senators who have disobeyed Trump and conceded are mostly the ones who have stood up to Trump in the past, such as Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, and Susan Collins. 

Whatever their reasons, the decision of many Republicans to stand with Trump and not concede the election is a dangerous one. Alone, Trump has limited power and his refusal to concede doesn’t matter much. With the support of the Republican Party, though, his actions become much more consequential.

Trump’s refusal to cooperate with Biden could become a national security threat. Biden has been denied classified intelligence briefings which are typically shared with incoming presidents. The transition between presidents is a period when national security is especially vulnerable and it’s important for the incoming president to be fully aware of any security threats so they can be dealt with immediately. Maggie Haberman, a White House correspondent for the New York Times, has expressed concern about foreign influence amid the current chaos. “There has long been a belief that the lag in transition caused by the Bush v. Gore court fight in 2000 helped create blind spots that led to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks,” she told New York Times journalist Michael Barbaro. 

Our vulnerability to foreign influence is troubling, but the consequences of not conceding extend far beyond national security. The refusal to accept the results of the election threatens the entire system of democracy. By refusing to concede, Republicans may be undermining the American public’s faith in the democratic process. Democracy does not work unless the participants have faith in the system. A refusal to concede makes the public distrust both the system and each other. 

It’s unlikely that this will escalate into something drastic. In recent days, more and more Republican officials have come forward telling Trump to concede. The chief of the General Services Administration, Emily Murphy, recently sent a letter to Biden’s team saying they would begin to have access to federal resources. Yet a refusal to concede for nearly a month after an election is troubling all the same. The transition of power began only after Trump’s many legal challenges were unsuccessful. If national unity is repeatedly sacrificed for partisan goals, the democratic institutions that have upheld our nation since its founding will begin to degrade. 

The Republicans’ challenges to the election do not have abstract consequences. The influence of their untruthful statements about a “stolen” election have spread even to Missoula. About a week ago, my mom was driving home when she saw an older couple standing on the sidewalk. The woman held a sign which said “stop the steal.” The man held a flag pole with a huge Trump 2020 campaign flag. It was a cold day and a strong wind was picking up. The man had to hold onto the flag with all of his strength, but he would not let go. Like too many Republican officials, he clung to Trump’s name even though it meant facing the storm that was soon to follow.