A few days after Election Day 2020, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) said Donald Trump would be willing to concede, but only "if certain conditions are met." It was a deeply strange comment -- in the United States, losing candidates are not afforded the luxury of setting the conditions of their defeat -- that was left vague: Santorum didn't explain exactly what the president expected to see.
On Thanksgiving, as part of a rambling and at times uncomfortable Q&A with reporters -- his first since losing -- Trump seemed to endorse something resembling an exit plan.
Pressed further about whether he would concede once the Electoral College finalizes [Joe] Biden's win, Trump said, "If they do, they've made a mistake." When asked, however, whether he would leave the White House under that outcome, Trump said, "Certainly I will."
This led to quite a bit of coverage over the holiday weekend, suggesting the president had presented a plan for his departure. The electoral college will meet in a couple of weeks; electors will formally choose Biden as the president-elect; and Trump will prepare to exit the White House.
But for those inclined to accept his rhetoric at face value, some caution is in order.
Right off the bat, it's worth emphasizing that much of the speculation about a possible Trump concession is unnecessary. Whether the Republican acknowledges his defeat has no bearing on the nature of his loss. Biden doesn't need his predecessor to concede. The Republican's White House exit is not optional. Trump will stop being president in 51 days whether he admits defeat or pretends he secretly won, reality be damned.
But for those trying to get a sense of how the near future is likely to play out, Trump's Thanksgiving vow may have seemed encouraging. The trouble is, his rhetoric about leaving the White House was surrounded by hysterical nonsense intended to cast doubt on the fact that he suffered a stinging defeat.
For about a half-hour on Thursday, the president sat behind an oddly small desk, condemned his own country's electoral system as "fraudulent," insisted the race was stolen, demanded people believe the election was "rigged," denounced Biden for choosing cabinet members, and declared, "I did win by a tremendous amount, but it hasn't been reported yet," which was every bit as pitiful as it sounds.
When Trump saw coverage about his apparent plans to concede after the electoral college's vote, the Republican turned to Twitter -- late on Thanksgiving -- to explain that the "primary point" he hoped to make during his Q&A was that his own country's presidential election was "rigged." The losing candidate added, "I WON!"
A day earlier, Trump tweeted, "Biden can only enter the White House as President if he can prove that his ridiculous '80,000,000 votes' were not fraudulently or illegally obtained."
Obviously, for those in touch with reality, the outgoing president's rhetoric was a little deranged. The idea that an incoming president "can only enter the White House" if he satisfies the ridiculous demands of his predecessor is clearly bonkers.
But therein lies the point: there's no reason to believe that Trump will magically become compliant and contrite after the electoral college meets. There will always be more legal threats, more conspiracy theories, more conditions, more demands, and more tantrums.
Those waiting for the outgoing president to graciously concede will likely be waiting a very long time.