What happens if Trump loses — but refuses to concede?
Concessions are not necessary from a legal standpoint. But it would be yet another norm-busting moment for Trump.
Donald Trump has, on multiple occasions, refused to say whether he’ll accept the results of the presidential election if he loses, suggesting that he has to “see what happens” and that he wants a “peaceful transfer” only if he wins.
Those refusals have many concerned about what might take place once the race is finally called.
The answer lies in how far Trump — should he lose to Democratic nominee Joe Biden — would go in his refusal to accept the results.
“A concession has no legal consequence,” Rick Hasen, an election law expert, told the American Independent Foundation. “It has more of a political consequence.”
For example, if Trump loses, there is no law requiring him to deliver a concession speech. The concession speech is a tradition that presidents and challengers alike have undertaken in an effort to unify the country after bitter partisan contests. If he doesn’t, it would be yet another norm he’s busted since taking office nearly four years ago.
But Trump would still be required to leave office on Inauguration Day, if Biden wins.
Trump could angrily tweet about the results, claiming they are fraudulent and that the contest was rigged — as he did after the 2016 election when he falsely alleged that he lost the popular vote due to nonexistent voter fraud — but that would not change the fact that he lost.
“If he doesn’t concede and it is a Biden blowout, then I expect other major Republican leaders will not line up behind him,” Hasen said.
It’s a different story if the race is close, with a small number of votes leading to a narrow Electoral College win for Biden.
Trump and his campaign have already filed numerous lawsuits to try to make it harder to vote and count absentee ballots, and are likely to continue those lawsuits after the election to try to invalidate ballots in close races.
According to Hasen, if this is the case and Trump refuses to concede as lawsuits make their way through the judicial system, then it “will potentially be a protracted struggle.”
Already, Trump has said he needed a ninth Supreme Court justice to help decide the election outcome, something he achieved after Senate Republicans confirmed Amy Coney Barrett to the court eight days before the election, without a single Democratic senator voting with them — an unprecedented event in modern American history.
Of course, current polling does not suggest a close race.
Biden leads Trump by 9 points nationally, according to a FiveThirtyEight average.
And NBC News is currently predicting Biden will receive at least 279 Electoral College votes given state-level polling — enough to notch a win even if every other toss-up contest goes to Trump.
With Democrats expected to expand their House majority, as well as potentially win back the Senate from Republicans, Hasen said GOP lawmakers would have little incentive to play along with Trump’s refusal to concede.
He pointed to the 2018 gubernatorial election in Kentucky, where now-former GOP Gov. Matt Bevin lost but refused to concede, making baseless claims of voting “irregularities.”
The Republican-controlled Legislature in that state ultimately refused to go along with Bevin’s assertions after he refused to produce any proof of voter fraud, and Democrat Andy Beshear eventually took office.
“Like the Kentucky legislature, congressional Republicans will want to cut their losses if Trump suffers a massive electoral loss, instead of choosing to go down with the ship,” Hasen wrote for CNN in late October.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.
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