POLITICS
10/20/2016 01:45 am ET Updated Dec 19, 2016

No, Donald Trump Isn't Doing What Al Gore Did In 2000

He's saying the whole system is rigged against him.

Donald Trump has refused to promise that he’ll accept the results of his race against Hillary Clinton. “I’ll keep you in suspense,” he said Wednesday at the third presidential debate.

He’s previously claimed that the election is rigged against him, and he said the same thing about the primary.

Trump is “threatening to upend a basic pillar of American democracy,” the Associated Press wrote in its story on the debate. 

But Trump’s surrogates say the Republican presidential nominee isn’t doing anything that hasn’t been done before — by 2000 Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore.

Trump surrogates Jeffrey Lord and Corey Lewandowski both made the argument on CNN Wednesday night. “Al Gore conceded that time, unconceded, and then reconceded three weeks later,” Lewandowski said. 

Like most things that campaign surrogates say on cable news, this is probably just disingenuous trolling. But it’s still worth pointing out that what Gore and Trump did are not the same. Here’s a (very) condensed version of what really happened 16 years ago:

1. On election night, several television networks called Florida for George W. Bush, clinching the electoral college — although Gore would end up winning about 500,000 more votes. Gore called Bush to concede.

2. Then the networks uncalled Florida — and Gore unconceded, realizing that he was ahead in the popular vote and if he ended up winning Florida he would have won the election. The election was literally too close to call.

3. A legally mandated recount began.

4. Bush (not Gore) sued to stop recounts in some counties.

5. Gore sued to extend deadlines for recounts.

6. The Florida Supreme Court ordered a more extensive recount. Bush (not Gore) appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

7. The U.S. Supreme Court stopped the recount.

8. Gore conceded.

(You can read a full timeline here.)

Here’s how the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin, who wrote a book on the recount, described the Supreme Court decision:

What made the decision in Bush v. Gore so startling was that it was the work of Justices who were considered, to greater or lesser extents, judicial conservatives. On many occasions, these Justices had said that they believed in the preëminence of states’ rights, in a narrow conception of the equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and, above all, in judicial restraint. Bush v. Gore violated those principles. The Supreme Court stepped into the case even though the Florida Supreme Court had been interpreting Florida law; the majority found a violation of the rights of George W. Bush, a white man, to equal protection when these same Justices were becoming ever more stingy in finding violations of the rights of African-Americans; and the Court stopped the recount even before it was completed, and before the Florida courts had a chance to iron out any problems—a classic example of judicial activism, not judicial restraint, by the majority.

Bush v. Gore would resonate, in any case, because the Court prevented Florida from determining, as best it could, whether Gore or Bush really won. (Recounts of the ballots by media organizations produced ambiguous results; they suggest that Gore would have won a full statewide recount and Bush would have won the limited recount initially sought by the Gore forces.) 

Despite all this, Gore conceded — and encouraged his followers to accept that decision. 

No one is arguing that Trump can’t or shouldn’t do what Gore did. Trump, of course, would be within his rights to pursue recounts if the election is close. He’s within his rights to follow Bush’s lead and take his complaints to the Supreme Court. 

But what Trump has been doing lately is vastly different from what Gore did. He’s calling the election into question well before it’s even happened, and alleging it is “rigged” against him. 

“Trump did not say that of course he would accept the result barring a razor thin election or widespread election problems,” election law professor Rick Hasen told Buzzfeed’s Chris Geidner. “He said he’d keep us in suspense.”

This is dangerous, as the Los Angeles Times explained in an editorial two days ago:

Trump’s claim of large-scale voter fraud is preposterous. Trump is casually undermining — and with no evidence — the presumption that elections are fair and that their outcome must be respected by losers and their supporters. That assumption in turn makes possible the peaceful transition of power and respect for the rule of law on which this country long has prided itself.

That respect is the cornerstone not only of a stable democracy, but also a functional one. If people question the legitimacy of an election just because it’s won by someone they disagree with, there’s little hope of bridging ideological differences and striking the compromises that are an essential part of governing a divided country.

[...]

If Trump [claims the presidency was stolen from him] on election night, and a significant number of his supporters believe him, a body blow will have been struck to a foundational principle of democracy: Respect for the outcome of elections even if your candidate isn’t the winner.

Gore contested the 2000 election to the extent allowed by the law. He accepted the Supreme Court’s decision, even though he didn’t like it, because it was the law — and it was what he thought was right for the country. Trump is vowing to do exactly the opposite of what Gore did: He’s saying he won’t accept a result that he doesn’t like.

Politico’s Ben White summed it all up in a tweet:

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.

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