The Washington Post surveyed 19 of the most competitive election races in the country this year asking candidates, “Will you accept the results of your election?” All 19 Democrats, including North Carolina Senate candidate Cheri Beasley, answered “yes.” Twelve either refused to agree or declined to respond, including North Carolina Senate candidate Ted Budd.
The 12 were all MAGA Republicans, obviously taking a page from the Trump playbook to refuse to concede defeat. “The Big Lie” strategy continues to this day, almost two years after the 2020 election, spreading lies and misinformation. This year’s election hasn’t even been held but “deniers” are already claiming that if they don’t win, they were cheated.
Candidates say they can’t trust the elections because of Democratic election officials allowing unauthorized voters to cast ballots or tamper with voting machines. They also believe their opponents will cheat. But hear this clearly, there isn’t a scintilla of proof that any of the 2020 elections contained irregularities that would significantly alter the outcomes. Yet the cult followers continue their chants.
Nate Silver’s 538 says that 40 percent of the Republicans running this year are deniers who will refuse to accept election outcomes, unless they are the winner. He further asserts that another 10 percent are playing footsie with the notion.
We saw what happened when the deniers (mostly Trump) stirred up the masses in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election. January 6th was the culmination of anger, violence, bloodshed and threats to our very nation. Imagine the chaos and turmoil that could result if we see January 6th attempted again this year, and especially in 2024. Yascha Mounk, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University says this is a real threat to our republic. “There is the possibility, for the first time in American history, that a legitimately elected president will not be able to take office.”
One of the foundation blocks of our nation is that the loser has been willing to accept the will of the voters. Some of us can remember the close election of 1960, when Richard Nixon conceded defeat to John Kennedy. Most of us remember the presidential election of 2000. Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote, but Republican George Bush ultimately was declared the winner of Florida and, after the U.S. Supreme Court intervened, went on to win the Electoral College by four votes. Gore, in a statesmanlike gesture, signaled he would accept the outcome and congratulated Bush. This was the closest presidential election since 1888, where Benjamin Harrison lost the popular vote but got more Electoral College votes than incumbent Grover Cleveland. Again, Cleveland conceded defeat, although he came back four years later and beat Harrison.
“Faith in election integrity is a huge piece of what makes democracy work,” said Paige Alexander at the Carter Center, a nonpartisan group founded by former President Jimmy Carter.
When the losers take to the media spewing misinformation, initiating lawsuits and insinuating there will be turmoil. They threaten the very foundations of our country. Can elections be trusted if the candidates won’t accept their outcomes?
David Leonhardt, Pulitzer prize-winning senior editor for the New York Times, says we are in “unchartered territory” and America is facing grave threats. “This is a fundamental test of our democracy,” he said. “There is no hope for us if we have lost the notion that we are in a democracy where the rightful winner of an election gets to take power.”
Here’s my spin: We all believe in democracy and the concept that citizens elect those who would lead us. It is why we fought the Revolution and is one of the fundamental tenets upon which this nation was born and has adhered to for more than 200 years. This is a sacred trust we cannot allow to be breached.
It is not hyperbole to say we are close to a constitutional crisis point. It is alright to have differences of political philosophies and opinions on issues, but when those differences escalate into disrupting and attempting to overturn free and fair elections, we must draw the line. We cannot allow bullies, demagogues and uncivil conduct to interrupt or threaten our republic.
Here’s what we can do. You and I have to confront anyone and everyone running for public office, asking the question: Will you accept the results of your election? If they refuse to do so or demur in answering we should work to get them defeated, no matter the party they represent or policies they espouse. If candidates cannot support this basic principle, the rest of what they say doesn’t matter. We’ve got enough problems in North Carolina and the nation not to deal with an enemy within, and a candidate unwilling to agree to this bulwark belief doesn’t pass the democracy test. No further discussion needed.
Joe O’Dea is a Colorado Republican candidate for the Senate, running against Democrat incumbent Michael Bennet. He says, “We have become a nation of poor sports and cry babies. It’s time for America’s leaders to start acting like adults again.”
(NOTE: This column has been revised by the writer. 9-23-22)
Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina Broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965. He recently retired from writing, producing and moderating the statewide half-hour TV program NC SPIN that aired 22 ½ years.
Contact him at email@example.com