The White House
To the bitter end
President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede is harming America
“Stop the steal” has become the anthem of outraged Republicans who believe President Donald Trump’s claims that Democrats stole his re-election by committing massive voter fraud. It is the hashtag they rally around online and the slogan they chant when they throng in the streets, as they did on November 14th in Washington, DC, earning a laudatory drive-by from the presidential motorcade.
But this is not the first time surrogates of Mr Trump have deployed it. Roger Stone, a former adviser to the president who recently had his prison sentence for several convictions commuted, actually founded a group by that name in April 2016—then to expose Senator Ted Cruz’s purported plot to steal the Republican nomination. Similar pre-emptive claims of voter fraud were made before the general-election contest with Hillary Clinton in 2016. Now that Mr Trump has actually lost, the slogan has finally been deployed in earnest.
Mr Trump has a long-held aversion to admitting defeat, or really conceding any fault at all. That is now throwing up an unprecedented scenario: an incumbent American president refusing to hand over power due to baseless claims of electoral fraud. It is a serious democratic norm to trample over—one easy to underplay because of public confidence that other institutions, like the courts and the military, will not accede to Mr Trump’s wishes. The chances of a reversed decision are low. The lawsuits filed in the swing states that Mr Trump lost are floundering. Despite Mr Trump’s recent replacement of civilian leadership at the Department of Defence, there is little risk of a self-coup.
Even if this low-energy autogolpe does not succeed, Mr Trump’s actions are still alarming. Presidential transitions involve a large number of civil servants: some 4,000, are politically appointed, with 1,200 requiring confirmation by the Senate. By not conceding, Mr Trump has stalled this process. Mr Biden is not receiving his classified presidential daily briefings. His team does not have access to secure governmental communications, relying instead on encrypted messaging apps. The commission to study the 9/11 attacks found that the shortened transition in 2000, caused by the disputed result in Florida, may have contributed to American vulnerability to terrorist attacks. By contrast, the wellmanaged transition between George W. Bush and Barack Obama in the midst of the global financial crisis enabled faster implementation of economic relief. Asked what was at stake this time, Mr Biden said “more people may die” if the Trump administration refused to co-ordinate on virus suppression and vaccine distribution.