When John McCain lost the 2008 election to Barack Obama, he gave a gracious concession speech, in which he said, ” The American people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly… A little while ago, I had the honor of calling Sen. Barack Obama to congratulate him on being elected the next president of the country that we both love.” It was classy, eloquent, and the most peaceful way to ensure a smooth transition of power. In fact, that is always the purpose of a concession speech, and in the entire modern history of the United States, no presidential candidate who lost an election has ever refused to concede in modern history. But there is not actually a law that requires a candidate to concede defeat; it has always been a voluntary process that we the people have taken as a given (via USA Today).
But like everything else about 2020 in general and this current presidential race in particular, we should know better than to take anything as a “given.” In the early morning hours of November 4, President Trump spoke to the press, saying, “Millions of people voted for us tonight. A very sad group of people is trying to disenfranchise that group of people. And we won’t stand for it.” He went on to call the election “an embarrassment to our country” and then claimed “We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election,” and said he would pursue his argument with the Supreme Court (via Newsweek).
What happens if no one concedes
Trump made this claim about having “won” the election before millions of ballots had been counted and before any viable reason for him to make that claim existed (via NBC). In any case, it is becoming abundantly clear that Trump is not about to go quietly into that good night if Biden is announced the winner of this election. In which case, if Trump refuses to concede, what will happen?
“As a legal matter, a candidate unwilling to concede can contest the election into January,” according to a report by the Transition Integrity Project, which is a recent effort by researchers to consider scenarios that could potentially put the integrity of the 2020 election at risk (via USA Today). What would this look like? Most likely, while the details are intricate and the ways it could play out are many, most likely it would mean Trump and his lawyers would pursue their fight in the court system, where they would face rarely-discussed nuances of constitutional law.
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