Trump will tarnish own achievement if he refuses to accept defeat

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Congratulations are due to Joe Biden. As a two-time loser in the Democratic nomination race (in 1988 and 2008) who placed badly in this year’s early primaries (he came fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire), he has made a great political comeback to become America’s next president.

Biden, who turns 78 this month, is by all counts a decent bloke. During his long political career, he has been able to forge alliances across the political divide. The great hope is that the former vice-president and veteran senator will bring these personal qualities to power, mediate policy disputes, work with both parties to end Washington’s toxic polarisation and at the same time improve America’s image abroad.

President-elect Joe Biden celebrates his victory on Saturday. Credit:AP

When all the remaining votes are counted and the result is certified, the electoral college result will be the virtual inversion of Donald Trump’s showing four years ago: Biden 306 to Trump 232. Not the “blue wave,” as some observers (including this columnist) expected (or, in my case, feared). Nonetheless, Biden’s 2020 win will go down in history as at least as emphatic a victory as Trump’s 2016 success.

And yet Trump and some of his advisers and supporters continue to cry foul that the Democrats have stolen the election. The argument goes like this: even though Trump held impressive leads in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia on election night, the Democrats have won those states thanks to widespread electoral fraud. This is, to be frank, a wild conspiracy theory. And like most conspiracy theories, no evidence supports the outlandish claims.

Start with the basics. The pandemic meant that more than 100 million votes were cast through mail-in ballots (or what we call postal votes) or pre-poll voting. It was widely understood before election day that more Democrats would choose to use postal or pre-poll options whereas more Republicans would vote in person on the day.

In states such as Pennsylvania and Georgia, where Trump’s election night “victories” turned into defeats, state Republican legislatures had refused to allow election officials to begin counting postal votes until election day. The result was that the huge in-person vote that gave Trump an early impressive lead in the aforementioned battleground states slowly declined and eventually evaporated as the postal votes were counted. The election-day gloating by Team Trump was premature.

Donald Trump returns to the White House after golfing on Saturday.Credit:AP

No evidence was found to prove collusion. After two years of media mania and investigations with all manner of subpoenas, interrogations, witnesses and grand jury testimonies, special prosecutor Robert Mueller found nothing to prove collusion. Let’s hope it won’t take two years to dispel this latest election myth.

The reality is that, notwithstanding a trifecta of crises (pandemic, recession, racial tensions) and the Democrats far outspending the Republicans, the 2020 election was a lot closer than the polls expected. Trump won 5 million more votes than he did in 2016 and commanded 48 per cent of the popular vote (higher than any poll during his presidency). He also broadened the Republican Party’s appeal to minorities and LGBTQI people.

The Democrats’ lurch to what passes as the left in the US context clearly scared many Americans. Democrats have lost seats in the House while the Republicans are likely to hold the Senate, which will constrain a Biden presidency.

You’d think that Trump and his allies would take solace in knowing that he saved the nation from a radical progressive agenda, which a Democratic sweep would have delivered. But his achievement will be tarnished badly if he peddles conspiracy theories and refuses to accept a legitimate defeat.

Tom Switzer is executive director of the Centre for Independent Studies and a presenter at the ABC's Radio National.

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