Trump acknowledges his election defeat, then reverses course

Yet another first: Trump is the first American leader to concede a presidential election by accident.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump in the Oval Office, on Aug. 27, 2018.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

Nearly two weeks after Election Day, much of the country is still waiting for Donald Trump to acknowledge, at least in some way, his defeat. Yesterday, that happened -- sort of.

President Donald Trump suggested Sunday that Joe Biden had "won" the presidential election while saying that the election was rigged — a claim that has been widely debunked. "He won because the Election was Rigged," Trump wrote before falsely claiming that no watchers or observers had been allowed.

When NBC News asked a White House official whether the outgoing president's tweet represented an admission that Biden won, the official replied, "It looks like it."

Yes, we've reached the point at which even White House staffers aren't sure whether Trump has or has not acknowledged reality by way of his strange tweets.

It was not clear whether the tweet represented a grudging or an accidental concession by Trump that he had lost the election, which he has repeatedly claimed to have won, even after every major news organization projected Biden as the victor.

Alas, after Trump's reference to Biden's victory caused a stir, the Republican clarified soon after, "I concede NOTHING!" It created yet another first: Trump is the first American leader to concede a presidential election by accident.

CBS's "60 Minutes" aired an interview with former President Barack Obama last night, and Trump's predecessor explained, in reference to presidents, "They are temporary occupants of the office, by design. And when your time is up then it is your job to put the country first and think beyond your own ego, and your own interests, and your own disappointments. My advice to President Trump is, if you want at this late stage in the game to be remembered as somebody who put country first, it's time for you to do the same thing."

The outgoing president clearly has a different perspective. As the New York Times noted, the problem was not limited to his brief concession.

President Trump's refusal to concede the election has entered a more dangerous phase as he stokes resistance and unrest among his supporters and spreads falsehoods aimed at undermining the integrity of the American voting system.... Facing his final 66 days in office, Mr. Trump appears unwilling to break from the gut instincts that have guided his pursuit of the presidency and his exercise of authority in the past five-and-a-half years: a fierce determination to act only in his self-interest and a near-total refusal to accept blame or responsibility for his failures.

This posture included, among other things, a tweet around midnight in which the flailing Republican falsely declared, "I WON THE ELECTION!"

To be sure, it's unsettling to see a sitting president throw such an elaborate, democracy-defying tantrum. But it's still not altogether surprising: Trump told us this was coming. It's painfully obvious who he is and what he's capable of. Everything we've seen from him since Election Day is consistent with the kind of character he's displayed for far too long.

What's more important is the passivity from the rest of the Republican Party.

Late last week, several GOP senators conceded that, in the interest of U.S. national security, the president-elect should start receiving classified intelligence briefings. On Friday, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) went so far as to suggest he'd personally intervene if there were ongoing transition delays.

But through the weekend, Republicans continued to say nothing -- about the delayed transition, about Trump's manic tweets, and even about Biden's election victory.

Obama added on "60 Minutes" last night, "The president doesn't like to lose and never admits loss. I'm more troubled by the fact that other Republican officials who clearly know better are going along with this, are humoring him in this fashion. It is one more step in delegitimizing not just the incoming Biden administration, but democracy generally. And that's a dangerous path."

Following up on our earlier coverage, there's room for discussion about the party's motivations. Maybe Republicans are tolerating Trump's nonsense because they fear the outgoing president's followers. Maybe they expect Trump to run again in 2024, so they're trying to stay on his good side.

Of course, the most likely explanation is that the party has been Trumpified to such a degree that Republican officials, en masse, can't bring themselves to take a stand in support of reality.