The wheels of transition are beginning to turn as the machinery of President Trump’s election challenges are grinding to an eventual halt. So is a concession speech in the cards? Don’t bet on it. And there are solid arguments against it.
The decision to release federal funds for the Biden transition effort is a recognition that there is no court ruling in the pipeline that will shine some beacon of hope on an election reversal in the short term. But a concession is another statement altogether. It is worth reviewing what it means.
Concession speeches are part of America’s political soundtrack. We can revisit many moments where losing candidates have delivered remarks they never wanted to give, even after hard-fought battles like George W. Bush versus Al Gore 20 years ago. But whether after a landslide or a nail-biter, the conceding politician acknowledges three things:
“I recognize that I have lost fair and square. The will of the people has been accurately determined. I defer to this result and accept it as fact.”
The transition can chug along until noon on January 20th. Joe Biden will place his hand on a Bible that day to become the 46th President of the United States. Donald Trump will be in attendance. But it may be without ever having conceded.
This would be either a proper response to a tarnished election or a grotesque abrogation of political etiquette, with sides drawn along political lines. But if we are about to witness a transition without a concession, does that matter?
The technical answer is no. Victorious candidates win whether or not they receive gracious outreach from their rivals. But it is a virtually guaranteed custom that suggests order and continuity following our characteristically heated election battles. There is something reassuring about combatants laying down arms and agreeing on the end of the fight.
Even as his lawsuits are ushered out of court, Trump shows no sign of such acquiescence. Naturally, his critics react as if the columns of democracy will crumble unless he submits. Many of these opponents may not have been so breathless upon the non-concession of Stacy Abrams following her loss to Brian Kemp in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race.
“I acknowledge that former Secretary of State Brian Kemp will be certified as the victor,” she admitted ten days after the election, making clear that this was “not a speech of concession.”
Review in the paragraph above what a concession really means—that the unsuccessful candidate accepts the properly reflected verdict of the people, and thus the loss. Abrams did not, and may never. Nor may Trump.
Such refusals leave us to assess the basis for the decision not to fully yield. In Trump’s case, the legal challenges have sputtered, and the assertions of software and hardware mischief have not been bolstered. To say the least, the Kraken was not released.
But for millions of Americans, this will forever stand as a tainted result.
Mail-in ballots were a disaster, foisted upon the nation on a wave of needless COVID panic. Big-city Democrat political machines fought against multiple measures designed to reinforce the reliability of the vote count. The scrutiny and accountability necessary to instill faith in the result was blocked, sometimes legally, sometimes literally. The window of voting was stretched far too early, the windows for counting stretched far too late.
These transgressions do not have to rise to the level of a Supreme Court victory to take their proper place on a list of foggy, frustrating chapters in history. Donald Trump will never believe that he lost fairly and accurately; nor will millions of his voters. A concession might be a polite nicety. It would also be a lie.
So if history will contain no chapter of a miracle reversal that hands Trump a consecutive second term, what of the prospect of a Grover Cleveland-style return to the presidency one election after a loss?
Before we get to distant speculation about 2024, there is the matter of the immediate fate of a Republican party and a conservative movement that still bears his mark. The air is filled with the prattling of skeptics, all guaranteeing that a hesitant exit will destroy Trumpism in the near term and damage him irrevocably four years from now should he decide to be both predecessor and successor to Joe Biden.
This is wishful thinking on steroids.
The Biden presidency will meet opposition still flush with the successes of the last four years, marked by Republican voters looking to win the House in 2022 and a GOP congress that has been shown how to actually stand up to the media and the rest of the left. We are not likely to see waves of nostalgia seeking to revisit the half-measures of the past.
Trump has had his Republican supporters and detractors during his presidency, and that will continue. No one should guarantee that his style will fill the sails of the GOP straight through to his re-inauguration in 2025. But these hand-wringing cries for a concession, and the promise of ruin that awaits him and his base if we don’t get one, are just political theater of the moment.
The eleven weeks between this election and this inauguration will not define or damage the Trump legacy. People who never liked him will grumble, but supporters will not sour on his achievements because of the dramas of this season. The earth will not spin out of its orbit if we do not get a concession. That refusal will in fact find harmony with millions of voters who will always share his suspicion that the vote tally was corrupted, perhaps to the point of yielding the wrong result.
While those voters will not see the Trump inauguration they fought for in the coming weeks, they will now turn their focus to the coming years, channeling current frustrations into a determination to repair our broken voting practices so that future elections can be trusted, irrespective of result.