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Potential GOP running mates hedge on accepting election results

The problem is not just that Donald Trump is refusing to commit to honoring the election results. It's that his would-be running mates are hedging, too.

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In the not-too-distant past, prominent American politicians were not asked whether they were prepared to accept their own country’s election results. The line of inquiry seemed wholly unnecessary: Our political system was stable and healthy enough to make the answer to such a question obvious.

But as the radicalization of Republican politics intensifies, leading officials from the party aren’t just confronting the question, they’re also hedging while replying.

This is true of GOP officials and candidates who are (a) conspiracy theorists; (b) desperate to stay on the good side of Donald Trump and the party’s base; or (c) both, but it’s the Republicans receiving vice presidential consideration who are of particular interest right now.

Last week, for example, Sen. Tim Scott appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” where host Kristen Welker repeatedly pressed the South Carolinian to simply say, “yes or no,” whether he was prepared to accept the results of the 2024 presidential election. Scott refused.

Seven days later, it was Sen. J.D. Vance’s turn. NBC News reported:

Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, a potential vice presidential contender, said Sunday that he would “totally plan” to accept the presidential election results — if the election is “free and fair.” ... “I totally plan to accept the results of 2024,” Vance told CNN anchor Dana Bash, adding that he believes Trump will be victorious.

This is, to be sure, a rather clumsy shell game.

  1. Republicans “plan” to accept 2024 results, so long as the elections are “free and fair.”
  2. Republicans will decide for themselves whether the elections were “free and fair,” based on amorphous and undefined standards they will not share.
  3. If Democrats win elections, the results necessarily trigger questions about the “free and fair” nature of the elections — because Republicans say so — at which point the GOP’s “plan” to accept the results is thrown out the window.

Obviously, Vance’s position is difficult to take seriously. But what makes this partisan dynamic far more alarming is the fact he and Tim Scott aren’t the only ones hedging and adding caveats to their answers about this foundational question.

Trump, obviously, is refusing to commit to honoring the election results — the same posture he adopted four years ago — but so are those hoping to be his running mate, including Vance, Scott, and House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik. In the coming days and weeks, it stands to reason that others hoping to curry favor with Mar-a-Lago will offer similar answers.

It might be tempting to shrug in response to posturing like this. Sure these Republicans are hedging and adding qualifiers, the argument goes, but that’s only because they know that expressing unqualified support for democracy would likely doom their national ambitions. They’re all just playing an unfortunate game.

But to see the developments this way is to overlook the broader dangers. When a major political party tells its most ambitious members that they’re expected to be skeptical of election results, it reflects a dangerous degree of radicalism.

Rachel’s A block from last week rings true. “The way you lose your democracy is by losing the expectation that we are participating in an election because all sides in that election plan to accept the result — to go home if they lose and to go into office if they win,” she said. “Once we no longer expect that, we are no longer in a democratic system of government in many important respects.

“Once one of the two major governing parties no longer believes elections are binding, then in many important ways, the democracy ship has sailed, because they are no longer competing on democratic grounds. Once one of the two major parties is no longer pledging that they will abide by the election results whether they win or lose, the democratic system of government is not threatened with harm, it is wounded already.”