What is a president to do when depressing election results keep trickling in, the media has proclaimed your defeat, and your opponent has declared victory – but you are convinced in your heart and mind that the election was stolen?
The decision facing the 45th president at this hour is no doubt agonizing – how far to go and how long to fight before succumbing to forces beyond even the control of the most powerful man in the world. For Trump and his followers, who believe this is a pure theft of the presidency and that it is unprecedented in American history or something new under the sun, rest assured it is not. Cold comfort that it may be, this would not be the first instance of a modern presidential election shrouded in doubt.
In 2000, Al Gore refused to concede to George W. Bush for 36 days after Election Day. That fight was over less than one thousand votes in a single state in the closest election in American history, but Democrats to this day believe that George W. Bush lost and was an illegitimate president.
A more apt parallel came in 1960 when an excruciatingly tight election was called for John F. Kennedy. Top advisors surrounding his opponent, Vice President Richard Nixon, knew there was something fishy. Widespread allegations of voter fraud in two states in particular could well have led to recounts or legal action. Let’s just say the Democratic machine in Chicago, strikingly similar to the one running Philadelphia today, came through in spades, delivering illinois for JFK, as did the powerhouse Democratic state party in Texas under the tight control of Kennedy’s running mate Lyndon Johnson.
Faced with an opportunity to fight on, initiate lawsuits, and demand recounts in those states and perhaps others, Nixon made the hard decision to accept the outcome – presumably for the sake of both national unity and his own political future. Many decried his decision, though it ultimately proved personally profitable when he won the presidency eight years later.
So President Trump now faces the same dilemma as Richard Nixon 60 years ago. If he carries the fight too long, he risks damaging his legacy of historic accomplishments. If he gives up too quickly, it would be dispiriting to the movement he single-handedly ignited, and which shows every sign of continuing no matter the ultimate dispensation of electoral votes. If he concedes gracefully, half the nation will applaud, while the other half will jeer.
Truly, he is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.
The enemies who spent every waking hour since the shock election of 2016 discounting the outcome and launching at Trump one political nuclear bomb after another are feeling the Bern. Their plan of personal destruction complete, they salivate at the dream of Trump being marched out of the White House in leg irons.
At the same time, many or most of the 70 million who voted for Trump will turn their heads in disgust, certain that no matter whether the Democrats continue spiking the ball and Trump concedes, they will never accept that this election was free and fair. To evince life into the fight, and as is his wont, the president is apparently planning to launch another series of huge rallies, the kind which headlined the waning days of his campaign.
At some point soon, it will become a matter of President Trump maintaining both his indomitable spirit and his dignity, even as his supporters find it impossible. But no matter the manner in which Donald Trump might ultimately choose to depart, he gets to be President of the United States for at least another 70 days, ample time to put the final exclamation points on his presidency like no other.
Read more from Tim Donner.