Editorial Board

Trump Should Be More Like Nixon

One lesson of American history: If you lose an election, don’t have a temper tantrum.

Nixon in 1960.

Photograph: Central Press/Getty Images

At the first presidential debate, Donald Trump said he would “absolutely” accept the outcome of the election as the will of the people. But that was before poor debate reviews rolled in and boasts of sexual assault surfaced, sending his campaign into a tailspin. Trump has since backtracked, claiming that the election might be stolen from him. And if it is, guess who will be to blame? As usual, Trump leaves little to the imagination.

“I just hear such reports about Philadelphia,” he said at a rally in Pennsylvania last week. “We have to make sure that this election is not stolen from us and is not taken away from us. Everybody knows what I’m talking about.”

Yes, we do. Philadelphia is a predominantly minority city. Trump is suggesting that black and Latino voters might steal an election from a candidate with record-low approval numbers among them. No one has ever accused him of being subtle. 

It’s true that Philadelphia has seen isolated incidents of electoral fraud, as have other places in America. In recent years, several hundred people have been convicted for election fraud, but most of them engaged in double voting, illegal registration and other individual crimes, not grand conspiracies to steal elections coordinated by party officials.

The sloppy state of voter registration records is a disgrace. But widespread electoral fraud has not occurred in a national election in the modern era, and the controls now in place to prevent it are stricter than at any time in history. If Trump loses the election, he will have only himself to blame. Yet, just as he did after losing some states during the primary season, he gives every indication that he is preparing to claim a rigged vote -- and in the process stoke racial and ethnic divisions.

Nothing will stop Trump from being Trump, from putting his own self-image ahead of everything else, including perhaps even the peaceful transfer of presidential power. But it is incumbent upon voters and elected officials -- particularly those in his own party -- to demand that Trump show more respect for this most basic of democratic traditions, as a few already have.

It would also be useful for the moderator of the final debate, Chris Wallace, to ask Trump if he will not merely “accept” the election’s outcome, but rule out raising doubts about it. After years of perpetuating the birther lie, the American public should not have to tolerate another Trump attempt at undermining a president’s legitimacy.

The last time allegations of widespread election fraud marred a national election result was 1960, when John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon by 9,000 votes in Illinois and 46,000 votes in Texas. Nixon’s supporters urged him to demand recounts, but he refused, saying, “Our country can’t afford the agony of a constitutional crisis, and I damn well will not be a party to creating one just to become president or anything else.”

Trump, who says he admires Nixon, should be prepared to exercise as much restraint.

    --Editors: Francis Barry, Mary Duenwald

    To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net .

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