Al Gore’s 2000 campaign offers Trump backers no solace

The right is no doubt aware of the biggest controversy from last night’s debate: Donald Trump’s refusal to say he’ll accept the outcome of the presidential election. Some conservatives and Republican surrogates nevertheless believe they have a (ahem) trump card: Al Gore.

Except that doesn’t make sense. Slate’s Jamelle Bouie summarized the problem:
Surrogates for Trump have tried to defend his comments, citing then–Vice President Al Gore’s conduct following the 2000 election. But Gore didn’t challenge the process; he let it move forward. As ordered by state law, Florida had to do a recount. That recount was then stopped by the Supreme Court. At that point, Gore conceded the election, gracefully and without public hesitation.
Trump was explicitly asked last night if he intends to accept the results of the 2016 presidential election, and unlike every other national candidate since the Civil War, Trump wouldn’t commit. Without any real appreciation for the seriousness of the situation, the GOP nominee added, “I’ll keep you in suspense. OK?”

On a conceptual level, I understand the point the right is trying to make. Trump’s allies are clumsily making the case that since Gore didn’t end his candidacy on Election Night 2000, it means he didn’t accept the results, either, which is no different from what we heard last night.

But the comparison is deeply flawed. On Election Night 2000, the race was unresolved. Gore had won the popular vote, and the outcome in Florida was so ridiculously close, an automatic recount was triggered. Gore didn’t reject the democratic process, he honored it by allowing it to play out.

In fact, in a detail much of the political world prefers to forget, it was the Bush/Cheney campaign that fired the first legal shot, suing to stop the recounts in some Florida counties. When the state Supreme Court extended the process, it was again the Bush/Cheney campaign that urged the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and stop Florida from counting ballots.

When five conservative justices ordered the state to stop, the process had run its course. Gore not only conceded quickly, he urged his supporters to honor the outcome – despite the fact that the resolution of the process was, at a minimum, suspect, and by fair measures, he’d actually won the presidential election.

Gore didn’t say the election was “rigged.” He didn’t whine. He didn’t throw a temper tantrum. He didn’t urge his backers to question the legitimacy of the democratic process or its institutions. The sitting vice president did the opposite.

If Trump’s fans are looking for an analogous situation to defend their candidate’s abandonment of American norms, they’ll have to look elsewhere.