How Donald Trump has altered political candidate concessions Before former President Donald Trump's baseless assault on the U.S. voting system, candidate concessions were taken for granted. No more.

After 2020, a candidate conceding an election is no longer a sure thing

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1092128286/1093121811" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Before 2020, every modern presidential candidate who lost eventually conceded.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

AL GORE: Just moments ago, I spoke with George W. Bush and congratulated him on becoming the 43rd president of the United States.

MITT ROMNEY: I have just called President Obama to congratulate him on his victory.

HILLARY CLINTON: Last night, I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country.

CHANG: But it's been a year and a half since voting ended, and Donald Trump still hasn't done the same. The question now is whether other candidates will follow suit in 2022 and 2024. NPR's Miles Parks covers voting and joins us now. Hey, Miles.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK, so how do you think Trump's refusal to concede could change the norms in future elections?

PARKS: So looking ahead at the midterms, it's turned this thing - a candidate admitting they lost - from something that was basically a given into a very real question mark. It's important to remember here that concession is not written into law anywhere. It's not required. I talked about that with Amel Ahmed, who is a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She says the U.S. has taken concession for granted because the country has also taken the idea of a peaceful transfer of power for granted, and a concession is a big part of that.

AMEL AHMED: For, you know, any of us who study democracy, it is that moment where you just hold your breath. And it's this tremendous leap of faith, where a loser says, OK, I am willing to be governed by the opposition because the alternative is worse.

PARKS: If concessions happen less frequently, she said, she's worried about more political violence similar to January 6.

CHANG: Well, have we seen this tension around concessions play out in elections we've had since Trump lost in 2020?

PARKS: We have. Just looking back at the New Jersey governor's race last year, it's a good example. The vote there was pretty close, and the Republican candidate, Jack Ciattarelli, waited more than a week to concede while votes were still being counted. Now, Ciattarelli was not alleging fraud or anything, but his campaign attorney, Mark Sheridan, told me he had to work really, really hard to make that clear because the atmosphere around concessions is just so unbelievably polarized right now.

MARK SHERIDAN: I had no interest in becoming Rudy Giuliani standing in front of a mulch pile, making crazy statements about election fraud.

PARKS: He's referring there to Trump's campaign attorney, Rudy Giuliani, making baseless election claims, as some people might remember, in front of a landscaping company.

CHANG: Right.

PARKS: But the candidate Sheridan was representing did end up conceding. But in 2022, a lot of candidates are actually running on Trump's election lies. And so election officials are really worried that means those same candidates might be similarly willing to not admit they lose after they potentially - probably, some of them will lose in the 2022 election. I talked about that with Matt Masterson, who worked on election security efforts at the Department of Homeland Security through the 2020 election.

MATT MASTERSON: I think we have to assume that in some cases - hopefully not many cases, but the incentive structure suggests perhaps more and more cases - the loser of the election will not accept, will not concede.

CHANG: So what can officials who oversee voting do to prepare for that?

PARKS: It's tough because the behavior of candidates is one of the few things that election officials can't really game plan out, right?

CHANG: Yeah, yeah.

PARKS: But at this point, they basically have to prep information, get voters prepared to fight against this disinformation. The last two years has been prepare - local election officials preparing as if they're going into an information battle in 2022 and 2024. And this fall will be the first real test.

CHANG: That is NPR's Miles Parks. Thank you, Miles.

PARKS: Thank you.

Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.