Chris Wallace of Fox News is getting justifiably positive reviews for his persistent questioning of President Donald Trump in a long interview that aired on Sunday. But I wish he had pressed further in one exchange.
Wallace asked Trump if he would accept the outcome of the November election — by implication, asking the president if he would accept losing. Twice Trump refused to make such a commitment. He trotted out his discredited theory that expanded voting by mail would “rig the election.”
This is deja vu all over again. As Wallace noted, at a 2016 debate Trump had likewise hedged, saying: “I’ll keep you in suspense” about whether he would follow the tradition of conceding if he lost.
I wish Wallace hadn’t focused on whether Trump would “accept the results of the election.” Of course he won’t if he follows his usual playbook. (Remember, he pushed a bogus theory of voter fraud in the 2016 election, even though he won in the Electoral College.)
And, frankly, who cares whether Trump accepts a repudiation by the voters — or places a congratulatory phone call to “Sleepy Joe” Biden? In his interview with Wallace, Trump said Biden was “mentally shot.” He also has accused Biden of spying on his campaign and supporting the defunding of the police, among other whoppers. If he were suddenly to behave graciously toward Biden, he would look ridiculous — not that he won’t anyway.
Besides, refusing to recognize reality is a habit for Trump; you might even call it his theory of governance. What matters is what he does if he loses. Will he, as some fear, try to cling to office through a declaration of emergency and an underhanded effort to deny Biden a majority in the Electoral College?
I’m skeptical about such scenarios, especially given the reaction of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Trump’s photo op at St. John’s Church. It’s hard to imagine the troops responding to an order from an ex-president to keep him in power.
Still, it would have been interesting to hear how Trump responded to the question of whether he would refuse to cede power if he lost in what he considered a “rigged” election. Even his catchphrase of “We’ll see what happens” would have been newsworthy — and damning.
It would be edifying if Trump were to genuflect to the tradition of gracious concession after an election. That’s what Richard Nixon did in 1960 when he conceded to John F. Kennedy after a close election that some thought was marred by fraud. It’s what Al Gore did in 2000 after the Supreme Court extinguished his hopes of prevailing in Florida and the electoral college.
It’s hard to imagine Trump following suit, even if he lost in a landslide. But it doesn’t matter if he goes away mad, as long as he goes away. And the last word on that question belongs to the Biden campaign: “The American people will decide this election. And the United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House.”
Michael McGough is the Los Angeles Times’ senior editorial writer, based in Washington, D.C.