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A new normal: More Republicans won’t vow to accept voters’ will

Two years after Donald Trump refused to commit to accepting his election results, it appears he created a new normal in Republican politics.


Throughout 2020, Donald Trump made not-so-subtle hints about rejecting the election results, but it was exactly two years ago this week when the then-president broke new ground.

Asked during a White House press briefing whether he’d commit to a peaceful transfer of power in the event of an election defeat, the Republican declined. “Well, we’re going to have to see what happens,” Trump responded. He added that “the ballots are a disaster” and he wanted election officials to “get rid of the ballots.” (In context, he was probably referring to absentee ballots.)

It was as jarring as it was unprecedented: Never before had an American president balked at the idea of a peaceful transfer of power, which has always been a foundational principle of our political system. It also proved to be an early warning of things to come: Two months after making the comments, Trump lost and then ensured there was no peaceful transition.

Nearly two years to the day later, it’s increasingly clear that the Republican didn’t just launch a one-time assault on our democracy, he also created a new normal for GOP politics. The Washington Post published a report yesterday on a dozen Republican candidates in competitive races for governor and Senate declining to say whether they would accept the legitimacy of the upcoming results.

In a survey by The Washington Post of 19 of the most closely watched statewide races in the country, the contrast between Republican and Democratic candidates was stark. While seven GOP nominees committed to accepting the outcomes in their contests, 12 either refused to commit or declined to respond. On the Democratic side, 18 said they would accept the outcome and one did not respond to The Post’s survey.

As it turns out, The New York Times did the same thing, asking nominees for governor and the Senate in midterm battlegrounds whether they’d commit to accepting this year’s election results. The results were similar: Most Republicans either wouldn’t answer or wouldn’t make such a commitment, while Democratic candidates said they’d respect the results, win or lose.

An aide to Tudor Dixon, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in Michigan, said “there’s no reason to believe” that Michigan election officials “are very serious about secure elections.” This falsehood, evidently, was supposed to serve as an excuse for not vowing to accept the voters’ will.

To a very real extent, the fact that we’ve reached the point at which this question is necessary is unsettling. For generations, it was a foregone conclusion: The United States was a stable democracy, and the world’s preeminent superpower. Of course its candidates for powerful offices agreed to honor election results. The line of inquiry was unnecessary since the answers were assumed.

Now, as the radicalization of Republican politics intensifies, it’s no longer considered outlandish to ask GOP candidates whether they’ll accept voters’ judgment — and it’s no longer surprising when Republicans fail to say, “Yes.”

It’s alarming enough that so many election deniers prevailed in GOP primaries in recent months, but they’ve embraced ridiculous conspiracy theories as part of a rejection of the 2020 results. These new reports are scary in a related way: They’re prepared to reject the 2022 results, too.

In an analysis yesterday on threats to our democracy, the Times’ David Leonhardt explained, “The first threat is acute: a growing movement inside one of the country’s two major parties — the Republican Party — to refuse to accept defeat in an election.”

It’s amazing to see just how many GOP candidates are proving him right.