- Win McNamee/Getty Images
Donald Trump earned scorn on Wednesday night for declining to say during the final presidential debate whether he would accept the result of the November election if he were to lose.
The Republican nominee’s Democratic counterpart, Hillary Clinton, called his refusal to do so “horrifying.” Political commentators and analysts characterized his stance as “disqualifying,” “totally wrong,” and “political suicide.”
Laura Ingraham, a conservative radio host and fierce Trump supporter, tweeted that Trump “should have said he would accept the results of the election” and that there’s “no other option unless we’re in a recount again,” making note of the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore.
Indeed, in response to the widespread criticism of Trump’s deflection, his campaign has invoked the 2000 election as justification for potentially refusing to accept the results of a presidential election.
“Do you remember 2000 when Al Gore contested the election?” Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, said in a postdebate interview with CNN. “I mean when he actually retracted his concession to George W. Bush.”
As many journalists and analysts have pointed out, however, Al Gore’s fight in 2000 – which began only after an automatic vote recount was triggered in Florida – was very different from the way Trump is preemptively undermining the results of this year’s election.
On election night in 2000, most major TV networks, citing preliminary vote counts, said Al Gore had won the swing state of Florida, albeit by a very small number of votes. But after polls closed, the networks reversed the call, giving Florida to Bush instead. With Florida in his pocket, Bush had enough Electoral College votes to win the election, so Gore called Bush to concede.
But the networks later retracted that call as well, declaring the state “too close to call.” The small margin of votes that gave Florida to Bush – roughly 1,800 – triggered an automatic recount under Florida state law, and Gore retracted his concession to Bush once it became clear that the results were contested.
The automatic recount, which concluded that Bush won by about 300 votes, was so close that Florida state law allowed Gore the option of “manual vote recounts” in the counties of his choosing. The counties were unable to complete the manual recount in the alotted seven days, however, and the Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, announced that the results would be finalized anyway.
Gore and Palm Beach County filed for an injunction against Harris to prevent her from finalizing the election results until the three counties could finish their recounts.
The Florida Supreme Court issued the injunction and ruled that the counties must have until November 26 to finish their recounts. But Miami Dade stopped counting, leading Gore to appeal to the Supreme Court -which ruled on December 8 that all Florida ballots cast but not counted by voting machines must be manually recounted if they had not been already. The court noted that in many counties, machines did not register votes because of defects in punch-card ballots. Governor Bush appealed this decision to the Court, which reviewed the case on December 9.
In the appeal brought by Bush, the Supreme Court tossed out the previous ruling calling for manual recounts across Florida. The court argued that the recount violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause because there was no consistent method across all Florida counties of recounting the votes and no time to establish one. The court let stand the preliminary vote count, which gave Florida to Bush.
Gore said he was “disappointed” with the court’s decision. But he accepted it.
“Other disputes have dragged on for weeks before reaching resolution,” Gore said in his concession speech. “And each time, both the victor and the vanquished have accepted the result peacefully and in the spirit of reconciliation. So let it be with us. I know that many of my supporters are disappointed. I am, too. But our disappointment must be overcome by our love of country.”
There is “no comparison” between the 2000 election and Trump’s refusal now to commit to accepting the election result, veteran Associated Press politics reporter Jim Kuhnhenn said Wednesday night.
“In 2000, neither Gore nor Bush mobilized supporters with fear of a rigged election. The dispute in Florida was about whether votes had been properly counted. Not about fraud. Yes, divided SCOTUS decision prompted Dem partisans to argue that the result was rigged. But Gore conceded graciously & power was transferred peacefully.”
- AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
At a town-hall event in Nigeria in 2009, Clinton, then the secretary of state, subtly questioned the legitimacy of the 2000 results based on the fact that Bush’s brother Jeb was Florida’s governor at the time of the dispute.
“We had all kinds of problems in some of our past elections, as you might remember,” she said. “In 2000, our presidential election came down to one state where the brother of the man running for president was the governor of the state, so I mean, we have our problems too. But we have been moving to try to remedy those problems as we see them.”
But partisan questions over the election’s legitimacy were raised only after Florida’s results were contested in an automatic recount.
“Gore’s fight was a fight over counting ballots, not over an allegation that the election itself was unfair,” The Washington Post’s Philip Bump wrote on Thursday. “There were disputes about the intent of voters and some insincere rhetoric on both sides, but there was no question that the system, however flawed, was working the way it was supposed to.”
- REUTERS/Mike Blake
Trump, however, has been doubling down on unfounded claims that the election system itself is “rigged” because of media bias and will be undermined by “large-scale voter fraud.”
“Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day. Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naive!” Trump tweeted on Monday.
There were only 31 credible incidents of voter fraud out of more than 1 billion votes cast from 2000 to 2014, according to a study by Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School who is an expert on voter fraud.
During a news conference earlier this week, President Barack Obama advised Trump to “stop whining and go try to make his case to get votes.”
“I’ve never seen in my lifetime or in modern political history any presidential candidate trying to discredit the elections and the election process before votes have even taken place,” Obama said.