“My sense is that if Trump wins, Hillary supporters will be sad,” left-wing writer Sally Kohn tweeted the day of the 2016 election. “If Hillary wins, Trump supporters will be angry. Important difference.”
Kohn turned out to be wrong about her own side that year, which angrily set about delegitimizing Donald Trump’s victory. She was wrong, too, in her apparent assumption — shared by shop owners who boarded up their windows — that Trump supporters would react as violently to his defeat as the Black Lives Matter movement reacted to a death in Minneapolis.
Which is not to say that Trump and many of his supporters are responding gracefully to their candidate’s failure to repeat his 2016 feat of winning the presidency by a margin of 77,736 votes in three crucial states (Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania). They are not consoled that Joe Biden’s margin of victory in this year’s three crucial states (Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin) was an even smaller 43,809 votes.
While accepting, grudgingly, that he must yield the White House on Inauguration Day, Trump has not discouraged efforts by his lawyers and others to, somehow, overturn the result. None have come anywhere close to identifying errors that would justify overturning the result in one state, much less the three needed to reverse the result.
This should not be surprising. When one state whose electoral votes are decisive has a very narrow popular-vote margin, the results will be fiercely contested, as Florida’s were in 2000. The final official margin was just 537 votes.
That’s a lot less than 77,736 or 43,809, or the 118,601 by which George W. Bush carried the crucial electoral votes of Ohio in 2004. Overturning earlier narrow electoral-vote majorities would have required successful challenges of popular-vote margins of 18,488 in two states in 1976, of 317,742 votes in seven states in 1968 and of 33,538 votes in four states in 1960. That’s one reason losing candidates didn’t challenge the results.
Another reason is that we have — or had — a norm against delegitimizing election results. In 1960, Richard Nixon chose to observe that norm and not challenge results in multiple states. In 2000, Al Gore contested the results in Florida but conceded after the final court ruling and segued from electoral politics to issue advocacy.
Not so in 2016.
In violation of longstanding norms, Obama administration intelligence and law enforcement agencies spied on the opposition party campaign. Officials proffered the dodgy Steele dossier before the FISA court without revealing it was paid for by Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
In violation of longstanding norms, Democrats refused to accept the result as legitimate. “I will not accede to this. I will resist,” tweeted liberal think tank head Neera Tanden (President-elect Joe Biden’s choice to head the Office of Management and Budget) five days after the election. Democrats took to calling themselves “the Resistance,” suggesting the Trump administration was morally equivalent to the pro-Hitler Vichy regime in France.
Again and again, leading Democrats — Hillary Clinton, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the late Rep. John Lewis, Joe Biden, Jimmy Carter — called Trump an “illegitimate” president. For three years, Democrats advanced the Russia-collusion hoax without finding or producing any evidence except for the discredited Steele dossier.
Joe McCarthy had the limp excuse that at some point, there were some communists in the State Department. Democrats and their many allies in the news media lacked a similar excuse for propagating the Russia-collusion hoax.
So, you can find polls that say most Democrats believe Trump is an “illegitimate” president and that Russians hacked election websites and polls that say most Republicans believe Biden stole the election with the connivance of election officials in multiple states.
High-minded commentators who paid relentless and respectful attention to what were obviously absurd and concocted charges of Russian collusion lament this state of affairs. They urge everyone to heed Joe Biden’s call to “unify” the nation.
They have a point. Democrats have misbehaved for four years in trying to delegitimize Donald Trump’s 77,736-vote victory. Donald Trump and many Republicans have been misbehaving for four weeks in trying to delegitimize Joe Biden’s 43,809-vote victory.
The conservative National Review is right to denounce Trump’s “disgraceful endgame.” But its liberal counterparts have done little or nothing to denounce Democrats’ disgraceful flouting of longstanding norms. The few left writers — Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi — have taken flak and separated themselves from institutional affiliations.
Democrats who are dismayed that many Americans aren’t meekly accepting the legitimacy of the Biden presidency are in the process of learning a lesson taught a very long time ago. You reap what you sow.