In a series of tweets Thursday morning, Republicans from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) to Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) to the third-ranking House Republican, Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), promised a peaceful transfer of power and emphasized its importance in our constitutional republic. But in each of their statements, Trump was basically Voldemort. There was no suggestion that they were responding directly to Trump or that he actually said something wrong.
Some Republicans were firmer and more direct, with Sen. John Thune (S.D.) saying “Yes” to a question about whether the GOP would act if Trump refused to leave office, and Sen. Ben Sasse (Neb.) saying, “The president says crazy stuff. We’ve always had a peaceful transition of power. It’s not going to change.”
As the day wore on, though, other Republicans weren’t content with generalized comments. Rather than invoke Trump, they began to invoke Democrats.
“This year, both candidates must commit to abiding by the results, no matter the outcome,” Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio) tweeted.
“Well I think the president will accept the result,” Sen. Thom Tillis (N.C.) said, before asking, “How many people have you asked on the Democratic side if they’ll support the outcome of the election?”
The reason that question isn’t being asked of Democrats, though, is that it has already been asked and answered. Presidential nominee Joe Biden was asked at last week’s CNN town hall whether he would accept the results of the election, and he said, “Sure, the full results. Count every vote.” What’s more, Democrats have already made clear their opposition to Trump’s repeated sentiments about perhaps not accepting the results.
Perhaps given that, other Republicans proceeded to argue that, whatever Biden has said, the last Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, recently urged Biden not to concede a close race ahead of all the ballots being counted and potential legal challenges.
“You know the advice apparently given to … Vice President Biden by Secretary of State Clinton — you should never concede. What does that mean? What does any of this talk mean?” Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.) said.
Added Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa): “I would have the same concern when Hillary Clinton advised Biden not to concede the election. … You ask me just from the standpoint of what the president said; it isn’t very good advice from Hillary Clinton to advise Biden about that.”
Tillis added later: “Hillary Clinton said Joe Biden should not accept the result of the election under any circumstances. You ought to ask the same question of every Democrat if they think there’s a fair election if they’ll support the outcome of it.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) went so far as to say, “What I’m much more concerned about is Joe Biden’s stated intention to challenge the legitimacy of the election if he doesn’t win.”
Again, Biden has not said this; in fact, he’s said much the opposite, while reserving his right to litigate. And even if Clinton had said it, her position would not be operable, given Biden is the candidate.
But even the portrayal of Clinton’s comments oversimplifies what she said. In her interview with Showtime, she didn’t say the results shouldn’t be accepted at all; she was asked about a close race and said Biden shouldn’t concede “under any circumstances” initially because it will take a long time to count the votes — thanks to an increase in mail voting — and there could be litigation.
The well-trafficked clip of her comments on Showtime last month initially omitted the question she was asked by Democratic strategist Jennifer Palmieri, but it was about a close race. “If it’s a close election — like, say, Biden wins — what do you think Trump will do?” Palmieri asked.
Over the course of a long answer, Clinton referenced litigation and the fact that votes will take a long time to count, and added: “Joe Biden should not concede under any circumstances, because I believe this is going to drag out, and eventually I do believe he will win if we don’t give an inch, and if we are as focused and relentless as the other side is.”
That’s not saying you won’t accept the results; it’s saying you shouldn’t concede early before you explore all votes and legal remedies.
Trump, by contrast, went quite a bit further on Wednesday, declining to commit to accepting a loss, period.
“Well, we’re going to have to see what happens. You know that. I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster,” Trump said, adding: “We want to have — get rid of the ballots, and … we’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly; there’ll be a continuation. The ballots are out of control. You know it.”
Trump could have easily said, “We’ll fight the case in the courts if there are irregularities, and if we lose, I’ll accept it.” That’s essentially what joins Biden’s promises with Clinton’s caution not to concede. But Trump has also repeatedly declined to commit to accepting a result even in those circumstances.
Pretending the two situations are analogous and playing this off as a “both sides” issue may help Republicans avoid a question, but it’s just not apples to apples. And even if you read Clinton’s comments in the most nefarious way, she’s not the one who matters, and Biden has made clear that he’ll accept the results when all is said and done.
Trump still won’t say that, which is why this is news — and why Republicans are offering these tortured responses about candidates who aren’t on the ballot.
Paul Kane contributed to this report.