1876 provides a precedent for a contested outcome and reveals the ignorance of the punditry.
The third and final presidential debate highlighted Hillary Clinton’s support for partial-birth abortion, “open borders” (her words), and “free” college for all students whose families make up to $125,000. Yet Donald Trump is the extremist, in the eyes of the elite media, because he wouldn’t pledge to support the outcome of the election in advance.
Such pledges, of course, are useless. In response to another Fox News debate question, Jeb Bush pledged in advance to support the Republican nominee, no matter who he or she was. Yet Bush is now opposing Trump.
With such precedent in mind … maybe Trump is better off not validating the election results in advance. There’s nothing at all revolutionary about that.
Moreover, it is hardly unprecedented for a candidate not to accept the election’s outcome. Al Gore fought for weeks to try to wrestle the 2000 election away from George W. Bush, who was declared the winner on election night. Gore didn’t concede the race until the Supreme Court ruled against him.
This very month, almost 16 years later, Gore was still implying that he won, with Hillary Clinton sitting behind him and nodding approvingly as he spoke: “Here’s my point: I don’t want you to be in a position years from now where you welcome Hillary Clinton and say, ‘Actually, you did win. It just wasn’t close enough to make sure that all the votes were counted or whatever.’”
So-called media elites are conveniently overlooking such matters. Even more significantly, however, they seem blissfully ignorant of the fact that the peaceful transition of power under the Constitution relies on the sitting president accepting the outcome of the election — and leaving office. Who cares if Donald Trump is declared the loser and thinks he won? He would be powerless to do much of anything about it, as was Gore. It’s not like Trump could call in the Air Force, or the Army. It is the current president, the commander-in-chief, who is in a position to jeopardize the peaceful transition of power — not the losing candidate. Shockingly, media elites don’t seem to understand this matter of basic civics.
Nor do they seem to realize that our presidential election results haven’t always been fair or worthy of unconditional acceptance, particularly in advance. In 1876 (the year that baseball’s National League was formed), Samuel J. Tilden, a reformer and a Democrat, won the popular vote by the handy margin of 3 full percentage points (50.9 percent to 47.9 percent) over Republican Rutherford B. Hayes — larger than the margins of victory for Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon (in 1968), or John F. Kennedy, and nearly as large as Barack Obama’s 3.9-point win in 2012 — and seemingly won the electoral vote. Yet he was denied the presidency. Here’s how the wonderful Webster’s Guide to American History (1971) recounts our centennial election:
“Nov. 7 . Tilden receives 4,284,000 popular votes to Hayes’s 4,036,000 [Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections updates that to 4,286,808 for Tilden and 4,034,142 for Hayes]; electoral vote is Tilden 184, to Hayes 163, but Republicans do not concede votes won by Tilden in Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Oregon, without which he is one vote short of a majority [in the electoral vote]….
“Dec. 6. Four states in question each proffer two sets of electoral votes, the Southern states having disqualified enough Tilden votes to elect Hayes, and Democratic Oregon governor having illegally replaced one Republican elector with a Democrat. Since Constitution does not specify whether Senate (Republican-dominated) or House (Democratic) counts votes, and there are two sets for the four states, election results will depend on arm of Congress counting vote….
“Jan. 29. To break Tilden-Hayes electoral vote deadlock, Congress sets up 15-member Electoral Commission: three Democrats and two Republicans from the House, three Republicans and two Democrats from the Senate, and two each Democratic and Republican members of the Supreme Court, with an additional justice who is independent, Justice David Davis. Davis, however, has been elected to the Senate and is replaced be Republican Joseph P. Bradley….
“Feb. 9. Bradley, who has favored Tilden, is persuaded to change to Hayes, and commission votes 8 (Republicans) to 7 (Democrats) not to investigate disputed votes. Hayes is given Florida vote….
“Feb. 16-23. Three remaining states’ votes are also given to Hayes. Republicans have won Southern Democratic support for commission’s findings by consenting to three Southern demands: to appropriate large sums for Southern improvement, to appoint one Southerner to the Cabinet, and to withdraw federal troops from Southern states….
“March 3. President Hayes, declared elected [with 185 electoral votes to Tilden’s 184] on previous day, takes oath of office….”
Tilden later said, “I can retire to private life with the consciousness that I shall receive from posterity the credit of having been elected to the highest position in the gift of the people, without any of the cares and responsibilities of the office.”
With such precedent in mind, and with the Democratic Party now openly opposed to such basic notions as requiring identification for voters, maybe Trump is better off not validating the election results in advance. There’s nothing at all revolutionary about that.
Anderson co-founded the 2017 Project and is co-creator of the Anderson & Hester College Football Computer Rankings.