Among the “firsts” associated with the 2020 election, the most norm-shattering of all will be if the candidate who lost never concedes to the one who won. After the major news outlets called the election for Joe Biden on Saturday, Donald Trump switched from insisting, “I won this election, by a lot,” to claiming that his loss was due to election fraud. Trump’s conduct seemingly has not fazed President-elect Biden as he proceeds into the transition; at the least, it was not a surprise, since Trump spent months making ominous and ungrounded predictions of voter fraud. There is, however, a limit to what Biden’s team can do, particularly in national security, if the Trump Administration holds up a transfer of power, as the head of the General Services Administration has done thus far by not formally recognizing the transition.
As if to fill the void, on Sunday, former President George W. Bush, the previous Republican in the highest office, issued a statement pointedly supporting the legitimacy of the election results. “The American people can have confidence that this election was fundamentally fair, its integrity will be upheld, and its outcome is clear,” Bush said. Twenty years ago, it was Republicans who were outraged that Al Gore retracted his initial concession to Bush, refused to concede when Bush was narrowly ahead during recounts in Florida, and then fought Republican state officials’ move to certify Bush as the winner, by suing to have the recount continue. The Supreme Court finally ordered an end to the Florida recount, in Bush v. Gore, on December 12th, 2000, and Gore conceded the next day. Now Democrats are calling upon Republicans to accept that Biden has won, and Republicans are looking to legal remedies to try to flip the result. But, because Biden’s win does not hinge on the results in one state, as Bush’s did, and because the margin of victory is not as thin, Trump’s legal remedies are far less realistic than Gore’s were.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, on Monday, that “President Trump is a hundred per cent within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options.” Since Election Day, Republicans have pursued a smorgasbord of lawsuits, but they have been dismissed or are otherwise unlikely to succeed. The Trump campaign filed multiple suits in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Michigan, Georgia, and Arizona, generally alleging fraud, or demanding that states stop counting ballots or allow closer observation of the counting. Though some cases are ongoing (for example, a lawsuit to compel Pennsylvania to impose an earlier date for voters’ proof of identification), the vast majority were quickly dismissed for lack of evidence.