World·Analysis

Trump's refusal to concede is legally irrelevant, but it could affect U.S. for years

Supporters of the U.S. president said at a weekend rally in Washington that the only way they’ll accept his defeat is if they hear him concede. And while concession speeches might not matter legally, they can make a big difference to the peaceful transition of power and effective governing of the next administration.

At weekend rally in Washington, supporters said they'll only accept Trump's defeat if he concedes

Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump participate in what they call a 'Stop the Steal' protest after the 2020 U.S. presidential election was called for Democratic candidate Joe Biden in Washington on Saturday. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters)

In Trump they trust.

Several supporters of the U.S. president say there's just one way they will accept his loss and move on: they'll need to hear him admit defeat.

That's one takeaway from conversations with some of the thousands of Donald Trump fans who came to Washington for protests this past weekend.

They listen to him — and not much else.

They don't trust the media that have projected a clear Joe Biden win. They ignore U.S. security officials who say the election was fair. And they fume at Republicans in several state governments who insist it was above board.

Only one man could make the difference, they say.

A New Jersey delivery driver who came down for the protests said a word from Trump would change everything.

Trump supporter Isaac Mooney says he can't believe Trump lost, but he'd accept it if Trump did. (Katie Simpson/CBC News)

Wearing a red Trump cap, waving a blue Trump flag and dressed in a QAnon-themed Trump T-shirt while standing in front of Trump's Washington hotel, the 23-year-old said he would follow the president's lead.

"If he concedes, if he decides that it is true, and they are telling the truth and Joe Biden won, we will accept it," Isaac Mooney said.

"We will accept it. We will be peaceful. I can't say everyone [would accept it] because there's always a few in the crowd. But the majority of us trust God, we love God. If God does not give us this election, we will still trust him."

Legally unnecessary, democratically indispensable 

Don't hold your breath. 

Trump shows no sign of ever admitting he lost this election fairly. The closest he came was a tweet Sunday that suggested Biden won through treachery — and after some media interpreted that as a grudging concession, Trump pulled it back with other tweets like: "I concede NOTHING! We have a long way to go. This was a RIGGED ELECTION!"

To be clear, Trump's words are legally irrelevant to the outcome. His presidency ends on Jan. 20.

It would require a shocking and implausible string of developments to reverse the result — first a revolt from no less than three state legislatures, then the approval of courts and finally the acquiescence of the U.S. Congress.

Yet the president's behaviour is relevant as a real-time example of the role concessions play in a democracy.

Trump's non-admission of defeat could have a slow-burning effect for years — inflaming anger on his own side and further eroding the chance of future co-operation between political parties in Washington.

Republican rage is laid bare in one poll that finds that 70 per cent of party supporters doubt this election was free and fair.

Thousands of Trump supporters attended Saturday's events in Washington. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters)

Distrust of media

That resentment rippled through Saturday's rally.

The event featured thousands of mostly peaceful Trump supporters. However, certain far-right extremist groups were present. Some flashed white-power signs and there were scuffles with far-left protesters, including some locals who berated the tourists in the Trump caps.

A number of Trump fans vented their anger at erstwhile ally Fox News. 

While the network has staunchly defended Trump throughout his presidency, and still has several hosts insisting he hasn't lost, it's not enough — the president's most ardent fans are stewing over its official call of a Biden win.

Fox News these days is part-conspiracy theory, part conspiracy-debunking.

There are now several reports that Trump and his allies are considering starting or investing in a rival network to compete with Fox. 

Meanwhile, Trump's fans are still pining for a miracle. 

Joanne Lambert, who came to the protest from nearby Virginia, said she remains hopeful that Trump might turn the election result around. 

She said there's one way she could see herself moving on.

"If the president accepts the results," Lambert said. If that happens, she said she'd hope to see a Biden White House and Republican Senate work together for the country's benefit.

Joanne and Roger Lambert don't trust the media. But she says that if Trump actually admitted he lost, she'd want the country to move forward. (Katie Simpson/CBC News)

"We do want our country to move forward."

A group of women from Iowa echoed the sentiment that if Trump agrees he lost, that's good enough for them. 

As did Alexandra Gillman, a chef who drove eight hours from Dayton, Ohio, to attend the weekend rally.

"As long as the results are fair I don't care who wins," she said. 

Why the U.S. presidential transition matters

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After the results are known, she said she wants politicians of different parties co-operating to pass bills that help the country.

"Working together," said Gillman, 30. "Whether it's a blue idea or a red idea…. I think the name of the game is compromise."

Lambert and her husband doubt what they see in the media. 

For instance, she found it peculiar that news networks projected a Biden win before military and overseas ballots were counted. 

Her husband, Roger Lambert, echoed that sentiment. 

The veteran said he swore an oath in the military to the U.S. Constitution, and felt he was fighting to preserve it by protesting the election.

"Accept these results? We don't know the results yet. So how can we accept them?" Lambert said.

"Unfortunately, the media has presented this whole scenario wrong. Even Fox News has changed their perspective." 

An injured man, who was marching with the Proud Boys, is seen bleeding after he was attacked by counter-protesters on Saturday. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

'We woke up in a different country'

In fact, media outlets, in this election, as in past ones, project a likely winner based on how many votes have been cast and how many are outstanding.

Each state then formally certifies its result by late November or early December. Then on Dec. 14, the electoral college meets in each state to formally pick the winner.

Trump supporters are pinning their hopes on a series of fluke events — in which the election result might be flipped by three state legislatures, with the endorsement of the courts.

Several are just incredulous that Biden could get more votes than their man. 

Repeating an oft-used knock against Biden in conservative media, Mooney said he couldn't believe that a candidate who rarely left "his basement" got so many more votes than Trump. (Biden received nearly six million more votes than Trump.)

Travis Milde of Virginia said he went to bed on election night thinking it was over, and was shocked to wake up to news of Biden apparently ahead.

"We woke up in a different country," he said.

His surprise comes despite media warning for months that Democrats' vote count would grow after election night, as mail ballots that take longer to count leaned Democrat.

Travis Milde says he'd want to move to a pro-Trump state if Democrats have in fact won the election. (Katie Simpson/CBC News)

But he said he doesn't trust the media at all. 

He also doesn't trust the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which called the election fair; he said DHS officials must be in league with global elites who want Trump gone.

"It's just not possible for [Trump] to lose an election like this," said Milde, a professional model.

And what if he did? Milde said he'll never call Biden his president. What he might do, however, is retreat to a friendlier political locale. 

Perhaps to a state like Florida, Milde said.

"[We'd] go to Republican states and let Democratic cities rot," he said.

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