Donald Trump’s refusal to predict if he’d “accept” the election results in two weeks has drawn extraordinary attention for something that may, in the end, mean little or nothing to the nation as a whole.
The posture is unique for a major-party candidate. “What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense,” Trump advised debate moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News.
But it remains hazy what would follow if he, his backers or both decide in the end to “reject” a Hillary Clinton victory.
Consider Trump’s fuzzy charges of a “rigged” contest. He keeps shifting the claims of how it’s done: stuffed ballot boxes, foreign nationals voting, biased news-media, “fake” polls, political correctness and the schemes of party establishments.
Just the same, it is anyone’s guess what, in practical terms, a nonacceptance of reported results on Nov. 8 could bring.
Concession speeches have no official stamp. These are symbolic gestures meant to convey a vague sense of reconciliation once the battle ends. They’re traditional, but in their absence, the life of the republic goes on.
If Trump’s tally falls close to Clinton’s, and he and his team see a way to prevail legally, then by all means he’d be expected to pursue it.
Sixteen years ago, the forces of George W. Bush and Al Gore slugged it out over the famous Florida recount before the U.S. Supreme Court effectively froze the results for Bush.
If Trump feels aggrieved over results, perhaps he can take the unusual step of lobbying Electoral College members into his camp as portrayed on the comedy show “Veep.”
Could a Trump refusal to recognize results inspire violent uprisings or red-state secession movements or tax boycotts?
Those prospects seem remote, even if Clinton partisans see it to their advantage to blast him as “delegitimizing” American democracy.
Clinton has indicated she’ll abide by the results.
And consider this: Washington, D.C., seems to already lack consensus on the significance afforded a president’s election.
One could argue that the GOP-led Congress never really “accepted” President Barack Obama’s re-election — or vice versa, at least to the point at which they could negotiate deals.
Witness the deadlock over immigration reform, which led Obama to take unilateral executive action, drawing court challenges.
What’s curious and perhaps unique to Trump in this ambiguous discussion is the disconnect between what he and nearly his entire team say.
Family members, campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and running mate Mike Pence have all indicated he’d accept the results if fair and decisive.
Maybe we’re only talking here about Trump’s ability to emotionally accept losing.
Maybe if Clinton wins, the upshot will be mass sales of imported Trump baseball caps bearing a new slogan:
“She Stole It!”