Unless national polls have been wrong to a Brexit-like degree, Hillary Clinton will be elected president tonight. (Make sure it happens! Get out there and vote!) And when she does, all eyes will turn to her challenger, Donald Trump.
For weeks, Trump has been slinging reckless conspiracy about the election being rigged. After having whipped up his base into a rabid, blinding frenzy — nearly a third of his supporters say they won’t accept the results if he loses — he’s vacillated on the question of what he plans to do in the event of a Clinton victory. As of now, his official stance is that if “it’s legit and fair,” he will concede. Then again, this message comes mostly from surrogates and there’s no telling what he will impetuously decide “fair” to be.
Observers have divined these mixed signals to mean that the magnitude of Hillary’s victory will determine how Trump responds tonight. The worst case scenario (aside from Hillary losing) would be a squeaking electoral-college Clinton victory. A Democrat loss in the popular vote but electoral college victory, à la 2000, would be equally bad. From Quartz:
If Hillary takes the electoral college by a margin of 70 points or less (270 of the 538 total possible points are required to win), and the popular vote is close in a number of key battleground states, Trump’s campaign could file suits claiming voter fraud, forcing recounts in a number of jurisdictions and certification of the results—meaning no clear winner until electors convene to confirm the college count on Dec. 19.
Long story short, how Trump decides to respond tonight will matter. Not legally — concession speeches have no formal consequence — but historically. In fact, it could make all the difference in the world.
First off, I contend that defeating specifically Donald Trump will be a long-term positive for Hillary Clinton. Far from being coronated, as some have said, this wife of a former president will have won the White House by besting an alternative who stood as her exact foil: someone loud, male, and different. There's no better endorsement of stability than the fact that it was chosen over nihilism.
Beyond the fact of her victory itself, this election is going to be remembered through the lens of what happens tonight. The possibilities range from all of us, decades down the line, laughing about the Trump phenomenon as a joyride of American id, to us pinpointing the moment Western democracy hit rock bottom. The Trump battle's ending will determine the shape of our memories. Let’s look at the possibilties.
Trump concedes peacefully.
If Trump were smart, this is the option he would choose. He tried his hardest to represent his cause (lol) and lost fair and square. If he admits defeat, he has nothing to do but let the world continue turning and cash in on the media outlet he’s planning with Bannon, Ailes, and co. Trump will retire to life as both a populist darling and a pop culture icon, remembered for his zaniness more than the danger he presented. That’ll be fine, though. I’d rather be frustrated with people whitewashing the Trump Calamity of 2016 than deal with active Trumpism any longer.
Trump conceding peacefully would also deliver Hillary Clinton a powerful mandate now and lend to her legacy later. The man is likely exhausted anyway, so hopefully it won’t take much convincing to persuade him to just move on.
Trump disputes the loss.
The benefit to Hillary Clinton’s presidency if she crushes Trump might turn into a damaging blow to her if she doesn’t. If George W. Bush is any example, she'll always have the pall of electoral controversy hanging over her head. (Not that she'd make us long for the ability to do the election over again the way W did.) Will President Clinton II suffer her own false start?
Not if Trump is the media manipulator he sees himself as. Contending the results of the election is not a winning move for The Donald. People are sick of this election and sick of resenting their fellow Americans. However much satisfaction it’ll bring the GOP base to extend the clusterfuck another month or two, it’ll depress the shit out of the vast majority of Americans. Trump will go from being a novelty to being a pest, repulsing every last camera until he finally gets the hook. And since his allegations of voter fraud are fabricated, it won’t change the outcome. If he knows what’s good for him, he’ll just go away.
We long for the halcyon days of the United States.
So those are Donald Trump's options. Tonight, we will see what he chooses.
Has Trump poisoned the well too much? Have the Republicans formalized their strategy to become a House-centered political entity trolling the Democrats’ attempt to run the country? Maybe. But first thing’s first. Go vote, and make sure we have a country worth saving.