US Election 2020: will Trump give a concession speech and accept defeat?
The election has been called for Democratic challenger Joe Biden but the incumbent president is refusing to concede, making baseless claims of voter fraud.
Concession speeches have been an informal part of the US election process for well over 100 years. The de-centralised electoral system used means that it is not until each individual county has completed its vote count that the state can be formally completed and the final vote count is confirmed. In 2016, for example, it took nearly a month for the figures to be confirmed.
To avoid a long delay the election is called by voting experts once one candidate has reached an insurmountable number of votes in enough states to reach the 270 Electoral College votes required to win the presidency. Once this happens the losing candidate will publically concede the election, allowing the victor to get on with the continuation or transition of power.
This year, however, is slightly different as Donald Trump refuses to concede despite being way behind in the vote count and having already lost the Electoral College.
What has President Trump said so far?
Despite the election being called for Joe Biden, who has already exceeded the required number of Electoral College votes by 20, Trump continues to deny the inevitable. Even before the election he was making unfounded claims of voter fraud and that has only increased in the days since. Upon hearing the announcement that he had lost, his team released a statement:
“Our campaign will start prosecuting our case in court to ensure election laws are fully upheld and the rightful winner is seated. The American People are entitled to an honest election: that means counting all legal ballots, and not counting any illegal ballots.”
No evidence of irregularities has been put forward by the Trump Team and on Monday a report produced by the Organisation of American States (OAS) criticised the President’s “baseless allegations of systemic deficiencies". Yet he still continues to refuse to accept the result and concede.
Are concession speeches obligatory?
In a word, no. There is no requirement in the American constitution for the losing candidate to make a public admission but they have become such an established part of elections that they are almost taken for granted. No modern president has refused to concede and the tradition of giving a formal concession dates back to the 19th century.
In 1896, Democrat William Jennings Bryan lost to Republican William McKinley and Bryan’s memoir states that he had began to resign himself to defeat by 11pm on Election Night. Two days later he learnt that his defeat was certain and sent a congratulatory telegram to McKinley, stating: “We have submitted the issue to the American people and their will is law.”
The first candidate to give a televised concession speech was Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson in 1952, after losing to Dwight D. Eisenhower. It has been standard practice ever since, although a private telephone call usually comes first where the losing candidate will congratulate the winner. Three days after the election was called for Biden; that seems very unlikely this time around.
What happens if Trump does not concede?
With the President continuing his Twitter tirade against the election result it seems increasingly unlikely that he will ever formally concede to President Elect Biden. There is however an ongoing process that even the Trump’s baseless lawsuits will not disrupt. All election disputes (such as recounts and court contests) must be completed by 8 December, so the state electors can submit their Electoral College votes by 14 December. This is the formalisation of the vote that has already taken place.
Trump may try to delay this process with continued litigation but the American election system has so far held up well to his attempts to disrupt the process. There also appears to be little appetite amongst the Republican party to tie themselves to a defeated President, and there are already signs that his team is becoming resigned to defeat. In short, even if there is no official concession, Trump will be a loser all the same.