It's led to claims of Clinton hypocrisy and cries of double standard. Trump summed up those claims via his preferred medium Saturday night and Sunday morning.
As a political strategy, it makes sense, and it feeds into Trump's claims about media bias. Why isn't the media pillorying Clinton, the argument goes, for calling into question the results of the election just like it covered his comments way back when?
But the comparison between what Clinton is doing now and what Trump was talking about doing during the campaign just isn't apples-to-apples.
First, Trump was talking about massive election fraud before it was even alleged to have happened. There is very little documented evidence of this in American politics, yet he was out there saying it could and even would happen.
Trump claimed at one point that the only way he could lose Pennsylvania was through large-scale fraud. He urged supporters to monitor the polls. And he was asked about these things when it looked like he was going to lose the race by a substantial margin.
Which brings us to the next point: The question wasn't really about Trump forfeiting his right to participate in recounts or contest a close result -- it often got simplified into "will he or won't he concede" -- but it was really about whether he would concede a race in which the margin wasn't really close.
Trump himself seemed to grasp that difference. Shortly after saying he wouldn't commit to accepting the election results at the third presidential debate, he said this at a rally:
Of course I would accept a clear election result, but I would also reserve my fight to contest or file a legal challenge in the case of a questionable result.
The comment got lost in Trump's showmanship; it came right after he said he would accept the election results before pausing and adding "if I win." And it wasn't at all clear what Trump believed would be a "clear election result" given his prior comments about historic voter fraud. But if Trump had simply said this all along, it probably wouldn't have been a big deal.
Trump added at the same Oct. 20 rally:
That was sort of an unprecedented question. If Al Gore or George Bush had agreed three weeks before the election to concede the results and waive their right to a legal challenge or a recount, then there would be no Supreme Court case and no Gore v. Bush. ...In effect, I'm being asked to waive centuries of legal precedent designed to protect the voters.
But that wasn't really what Trump was being asked. Trump at times argued that the election was going to be stolen from him almost regardless of what the actual result showed. That's what led to the "unprecedented question." And saying he would accept the result wouldn't have actually prevented him from pursuing legitimate recounts.
It's also worth noting in this that the Clinton campaign hasn't un-conceded the election. It has said that Trump won, and it has tiptoed gently around this whole idea of a recount. It has recognized the likelihood that these recounts won't change much of anything. (As our Philip Bump notes, the evidence of actual, ironclad irregularities is thin right now.)
In his Saturday post on Medium, Clinton campaign lawyer Marc Elias emphasizes, "While that effort has not, in our view, resulted in evidence of manipulation of results, now that a recount is underway, we believe we have an obligation to the more than 64 million Americans who cast ballots for Hillary Clinton to participate in ongoing proceedings to ensure that an accurate vote count will be reported."
Trump won the election because he carried a trio of Rust Belt states by about 1 point or less — Wisconsin by 0.8 percent, Michigan by 0.2 percent and Pennsylvania by 1.1 percent. If the shoe was on the other foot and Clinton had won by such margins, it wouldn't be outlandish for Trump to participate in recounts in one or more of those states.
But that wasn't really what the Trump controversy was about.