Joe Biden has defeated President Donald Trump to become the 46th president of the United States, according to projections announced Saturday morning.
Still, President Trump has indicated his campaign will continue to fight the results in court. He is within his rights to challenge the counting and to submit whatever evidence he has of irregularities to courts. It is important to be absolutely sure that allegations are argued, examined and adjudicated, especially in such a close race. But it may prove hard for him to overturn the results in enough states to push him over the 270-vote threshold in the Electoral College.
And so, Trump must recognize that a time to concede may be coming, despite his strong feelings otherwise. It may come despite, perhaps, court rulings with which he disagrees. An eventual concession is necessary for the republic, whose needs are far greater than any candidate’s, and for the safety and welfare of all Americans.
Here is some perspective:
“We have submitted the issue to the American people and their will is law.”
With those inspired words, William Jennings Bryan conceded to William McKinley in 1896, beginning a long American tradition of gracious losing that has reassured people democracy still works and the quadrennial struggle for control of the nation has ended peacefully.
Such speeches happen across the political spectrum in this country, from the smallest race for city council to the White House. It is an aspect of American exceptionalism, an example to the rest of the world of how a system that vests ultimate power in the people can solve its differences.
And it needs to happen at the end of the current presidential race. When that happens, the losing candidate will have some notable examples from history to follow.
No one could accuse Richard Nixon of having a small ego. When he lost to John F. Kennedy in 1960, a lot of Republicans pointed to alleged voter fraud in Texas and Illinois. In all, the campaign was suggesting recounts in 11 states. His campaign manager alleged that 50,000 ballots had been illegally disqualified in Texas due to technicalities.
Nixon ended up losing all his court challenges, but he had conceded long before that, saying, “My congratulations to Sen. Kennedy for his fine race in this campaign.”
Republican John McCain gave a gracious concession speech in 2008, saying, “The American people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly.” Quieting the boos of his supporters, he then noted the historical significance of Barack Obama being elected as the first Black president and pledged to do “all in my power” to help him succeed.
Even Hillary Clinton, who lost to Donald Trump in 2016 despite winning the popular vote, asked her supporters to unite behind her opponent. “Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power,” she said. “And we don’t just respect that; we cherish it.”
But Democrat Al Gore’s example may be the one most applicable to 2020. His race with George W. Bush involved weeks of recounts and legal scrutiny, resulting finally in a Supreme Court decision against him. “While I strongly disagree with the court’s decision, I accept it,” he said.
As he told NBC News earlier this week, he understood that his failure to do so might result in violence in the streets, an outcome no candidate should want as a legacy.
And yet, violence might be the ultimate result of any presidential election in which one side ultimately refuses to accept defeat. When the counting is done, Trump is likely to have won more than 70 million votes, giving him formidable support. How he handles that is crucial to the legitimacy of the federal government going forward.
Paul Corcoran, a political theorist who has studied American presidential races, told NPR that concession speeches are “the loser’s attempt to convert loss into honor.”
More than that, it is something the nation needs in order to bring a proper end to a grueling political season.