Donald Trump Would Be the First Presidential Candidate Not to Accept an Electoral Loss

October 21st 2016

Mike Rothschild

GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump made headlines during the third debate with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton when he refused to say that he'd accept the results of the Nov. 8 election.

Trump would only respond, "I will look at it at the time," when asked by moderator Chris Wallace whether he would accept a Clinton victory. Trump has repeatedly said, without substantiation, that the election is being rigged by the media or other forces.

Asked again, Trump said: "I'll keep you in suspense."

The reaction to Trump's comments was almost universal horror from both Republicans and Democrats.

A few Trump surrogates and supporters pointed to Al Gore's 2000 recount in Florida as an example of not accepting the result of an election. How could Trump be criticized for doing what Gore did by challenging that outcome then in a dispute that went all the way to the Supreme Court?

The problem with this theory is that it's based on a totally incorrect understanding of what actually happened in 2000.

For one thing, the recount in Florida was legally mandated because the margin was less than 0.5 percent.

Gore didn't have to ask for it.

The recount decreased George W. Bush's margin of victory to 327 votes from 1,784. Gore then legally requested a manual recount of votes from four heavily Democratic counties. When the state's ballot certification deadline loomed, the state's Republican secretary of state blocked the manual recount on the grounds it wouldn't be finished and certified Bush the winner.

A series of suits and countersuits followed, with Gore continuing to pursue legal remedies to ensure every vote was counted. It was only after the Florida Supreme Court ruled for a statewide recount that the U.S. Supreme Court became involved — because George W. Bush sued to stop the recount. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bush's favor, Gore indeed "accepted the results" of the election and conceded — because the country needed to know who the president was.

At no point did Gore ever declare he wouldn't accept losing.

Gore simply pursued legal challenges that were within his right.

There are also parallels between the 2000 election and a few other contested results in American history.

  • In 1916, Woodrow Wilson's opponent, Charles Evans Hughes, waited two weeks to concede, pending an official canvass of ballots in California, which he'd lost by 3,000 votes. The canvass returned no irregularities, and Hughes conceded.
  • Similarly, in 1884, James Blaine requested a final canvass of votes in the swing state of New York, which he'd lost by 1,000 votes amid widespread allegations of fraud in New York City. The canvass returned no evidence that the initial decision was wrong, and Blaine conceded to Grover Cleveland.

One election that saw neither candidate accept the results was the election of 1876 between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden. Tilden won both the popular vote and the electoral vote, by 19. But 20 votes in three southern states were contested amid allegations of disenfranchisement and intimidation, and Tilden was one vote shy of a majority.

Neither candidate "accepted" the initial results of the election, because there was no majority without the disputed votes.

What followed were months of fraud accusations and mob violence. The dispute threatened to break into a second Civil War. Congress ended the impasse by establishing the country's first electoral commission. Just days before inauguration, Hayes was awarded all 20 disputed votes in exchange for federal troops being pulled out of the South, which ended Reconstruction and ushered in Jim Crow.

Far from "not accepting" the results, Tilden did little to bolster his supporters and conceded to Hayes, even though he had a legitimate claim that the election had been stolen from him. It was simply too important for the country to have a president – even if it wasn't him.

It's clear from history that every time a candidate has delayed his concession, it was for viable reasons.

Should Trump lose in a landslide and refuse to concede, he would be violating a precedent as old as the country itself.

Given that the election night concession speech is essentially a formality, if enough Republicans come out and recognize Trump's loss, his own lack of a concession speech won't be seen as a republic-shattering call for rebellion, but rather as sour grapes by a sore loser.

But if the election is close enough that one swing state has a razor-thin margin, Trump would be well within his legal rights to delay his acceptance of the results – and that is a proud American tradition.

(ATTN: has reached out to the Trump campaign for comment on this story. We will updaate it when we receive a response.)