Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
As expected, Trump’s refusal to make a pledge accepting the outcome of the election stirred up the usual hysteria on the left and the right. According to the New York Times, Trump’s response was “a remarkable statement that seemed to cast doubt on American democracy.” The other P.R. firm for progressives, the Associated Press, said Trump was “threatening to upend a fundamental pillar of American democracy.” Prominent NeverTrumper John Podhoretz was even more vehement: “It was a shocking and cravenly irresponsible thing to say, the sort of thing that threatens to rend our national fabric, and for that alone, Trump has earned his place in the history of American ignominy.” Right alongside Benedict Arnold and John Wilkes Booth, I guess.
All these hyperbolic responses are curiously similar to Hillary’s during the debate. Sniffing political opportunity with all the olfactory acuity of an outhouse rat, Hillary thundered, “Horrifying … He is denigrating [sic]. He is talking down our democracy. And I for one am appalled that someone the nominee of one of our two major parties would take that kind of position.” As opposed to trading uranium mines to a Russian firm in exchange for donations to her family foundation? Once again, over-the-top rhetoric that serves political interest substitutes for clear thinking and moral distinctions when it comes to Donald Trump.
Indeed, these preposterous claims of “threat to democracy” and an unprecedented violation of a “democratic tradition” conjure up apocalyptic scenes of Alt-Right and KKK and Survivalist battalions swarming from basements and Klaverns and foothills with their gun-show “assault rifles” to spark a civil war in the streets, while Vladimir crawls out of his coffin in the Kremlin and dispatches legions of little green bats to destroy the Republic and anoint Donald “Renfeld” Trump as dictator. All the while that Hillary’s corruption and subversion of the Constitution––genuine threats to democracy––are tsk-tsked then swamped by anti-Trump hysteria.
Not that Trump should be let off the hook for his typically thoughtless reply, a bad habit that might cost him the election. Chris Wallace’s question was ambiguous, asking if Trump “will absolutely accept the result of the selection” and claiming “no matter how hard fought a campaign is, that at the end of the campaign, that the loser concedes to the winner.” But what did Wallace mean? After the results of the voting have been certified by the states, according to each state’s laws? Or after results are announced by the media and the states, but not yet certified? And doesn’t the “campaign end” on November 7, which suggests Wallace meant the latter?
This is the clarification Trump should have demanded, assuming he even knows how elections work. If Wallace meant after certification, then Trump could of course have agreed, given that there is no realistic legal recourse for the loser at that point. Indeed, his campaign announced the day after the debate that he will concede then if he loses.
If, however, Wallace meant before certification, then Trump could have given the answer he gave, “I will look at it at that time.” The 2000 election is the classic example of how in a close race a candidate does not “accept the result,” and uses a state’s laws to contest it. That’s what Al Gore did when he exercised his right to a manual recount of the votes in four Florida counties, all solidly Democratic, by the way. Where was Hillary’s “horror” when that happened? And has she and her ilk forgotten the incessant commentary and even books about how George Bush “rigged” the election and “stole” it from Gore? Were they as outraged when John Kerry, according to Mark Crispin Miller––author of Loser Take All: Election Fraud and The Subversion of Democracy, 2000 – 2008–– said the election was “stolen” form him? (h.t. The Federalist). Does that sound like a “country com[ing] together in part for the good of the country,” as Wallace said? Where was that venerable tradition then?
Allowing Wallace’s ambiguity to stand invited Hillary’s response, which was based on assuming that Trump would contest after certification. Maybe that’s what Trump meant. But even if he did mean that, given that the armed insurrection conjured by his critics’ hysterical fantasies isn’t going to happen, all he could do is play Al Gore and wander around whining about how the election was stolen from him. But that won’t endanger the Constitutional order, unlike Obama’s executive tyranny and Hillary’s promises to swell even further the Federal Leviathan. I wish Trump’s critics were as passionate about that threat as they are about the Donald’s bluster about hypotheticals.