As we write this, the outcome of the presidential election is unknown. Whoever wins, and whenever that result is certain, we would urge the losing candidate and his supporters to respect it.
One of the most admired traditions in this nation is its longstanding history for a peaceful acceptance of an election result. It’s always been a given that the losing side would bow out gracefully, at least on the surface, even in cases where the finally tally left some doubt as to whether the candidate with the most legal votes actually won.
Richard Nixon in 1960 thought the election had been stolen from him by John Kennedy’s allies, especially in Illinois and Texas. He considered challenging the result, and the Republican Party mechanism conducted its own probe and demanded several recounts. In the end, though, Nixon and the GOP accepted defeat.
The partisan tables were turned 40 years later, when the outcome in the 2000 presidential race came down to a razor-thin and disputed margin in Florida between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately decided to shut down the recounts, giving the White House to Bush. Gore accepted the result.
There may have been hard feelings in both cases, but no violence or encouraging of civil unrest by the losing candidates or his backers. The defeated parties returned to their corner to fight another day, with Nixon winning the presidency in 1968 (then having to resign in disgrace six years later) and Barack Obama claiming the White House for the Democrats in 2008.
Donald Trump has strongly suggested that he might not go along if he loses to Joe Biden. Trump alleged, leading up to Election Day, that the outcome was rigged, just as he did in the weeks prior to the 2016 election he ultimately won.
Given’s Trump incendiary rhetoric, it may seem that his partisans are the most about whom to worry, but that’s not necessarily the case. The left has shown plenty of protest potential this year, some of it violent, over racial justice and police brutality. Could another contest in which Trump loses the popular vote but wins the electoral vote spur riots and looting? It’s possible.
It’s going to take a commitment by the nation’s leaders to tamp down either of these scenarios. The losing candidate could have the most impact, but members of Congress from both parties have a role to play as well.
It’s been a rough, nasty campaign. But once the vote is done, the vote is done. It’s imperative that the outcome be accepted peacefully, and that there be no condoning any side that thinks otherwise.