A Very Strange Ending
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
In all the post-mortems and analyses which already have been produced about last night’s Presidential debate there has been little discussion about the ending of the evening. After 90 minutes of rants, scoring points, interruptions, and some substance, the moderator, Lester Holt, concluded the evening by asking each candidate if he/she would respectively accept the results of the election. Hillary said she would and after some rambling Trump said he would as well. The problem is not with their responses, it is with the very fact that Holt even felt that there was a question. In the case of Clinton her answer was totally expected; but it was to challenge Trump that Holt truly wanted to direct the question.
As may be recalled, during the primary, Trump had frequently been asked if he would accept the results of the Republican Party faithful if he were not the actual party nominee. His replies waffled until late in the primary season when Trump finally announced that he would accept the nominee of the party and not run as an independent.
The fact that now there is actually a theory that Trump is so mercurial and unpredictable dangerous that he could ultimately reject the results of the election is very scary. In one of Trump’s rants he specifically suggested that Hillary might steal the election which suggests that he could respond aggressively by challenging the results.
What ought to be understood by the public, is that there have been elections campaigns in history between people who did not like each other or even respect each other, but never has there been a candidate of whom it could be said that they did not accept the democratic system. Candidates have asserted that they do not like rules or how the nominating process was conducted but they never rejected the system.
In 1948, for example, the Dixiecrats, on the right, broke away from the Democratic Party with Strom Thurmond as their head and on the left the Progressive Party led by Henry Wallace broke away, both to challenge Harry Truman’s re-election. In 1972 Hubert Humphrey challenged the “winner take all” system in some primary states and took his challenge to the Courts. Even Bernie Sanders disliked the delegate distribution system so much he briefly suggested he would bolt from the party. None of them ever rejected or repudiated the system or the results.
This is the scary and bizarre thought that clearly precipitated Holt’s question: would Trump—if he lost—do something undemocratic to overturn or challenge the results of the democratic system? It seems that while Trump had said earlier that he expected Hillary to try to steal the election, after last night, unless he changes his mind,—which could clearly happen—Trump told Holt, after some hemming and hawing, that he would accept the results.