Election 2020

No, Trump Did Not Concede the Election (Even Briefly)

The president still insists the election was stolen by a vast criminal conspiracy.


A Sunday morning tweet by President Donald Trump set off a flurry of misleading reports suggesting he had finally admitted that he lost his bid for reelection. "Trump says for the first time Biden won the election," CNN said. "Trump says Biden won," BBC News announced. "Referring to Mr. Biden, the president said that 'he won,'" The New York Times reported. "That represented the first time Mr. Trump had publicly said what his advisers have been telling him for days privately: His re-election bid failed and Mr. Biden will be inaugurated on Jan. 20."

But what Trump actually said was perfectly consistent with what he has been saying since Election Day: "He won because the Election was Rigged." In other words, Biden did not really win; it looks that way only because of a massive fraud that deprived Trump of his rightful victory. The president added: "NO VOTE WATCHERS OR OBSERVERS allowed, vote tabulated by a Radical Left privately owned company, Dominion, with a bad reputation & bum equipment that couldn't even qualify for Texas (which I won by a lot!), the Fake & Silent Media, & more!"

Later on Sunday morning, presumably after seeing how that tweet was being portrayed, Trump posted this clarification: "He only won in the eyes of the FAKE NEWS MEDIA. I concede NOTHING! We have a long way to go. This was a RIGGED ELECTION!"

Although the Times described that follow-up tweet as a "flip-flop," it was nothing of the sort. Trump continues to maintain that Republican observers were barred from count rooms (which is not true) and that election software produced by Dominion Voting Systems deleted votes for him (which is not true either). And although he lately has eschewed the word fraud, instead insisting that the election was "RIGGED," the implication is the same: Biden supporters across the country conspired to change vote tallies so it would look like the former vice president won. This scheme allegedly involved hundreds of thousands (or possibly "millions") of votes—enough to erase Trump's initial leads and allow Biden to claim electoral votes in battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Arizona.

Although post-election lawsuits filed by Republicans do not come close to substantiating this conspiracy theory, that is what Trump claims to believe. Does he really believe it?

"He knows it's over," an unnamed "adviser" told Times reporter Maggie Haberman last week. Haberman summed up the accounts of "a half-dozen advisers and people close to the president" this way:

Instead of conceding, they said, he is floating one improbable scenario after another for staying in office while he contemplates his uncertain post-presidency future.

There is no grand strategy at play…Mr. Trump is simply trying to survive from one news cycle to the next, seeing how far he can push his case against his defeat and ensure the continued support of his Republican base. By dominating the story of his exit from the White House, he hopes to keep his millions of supporters energized and engaged for whatever comes next.

But according to the same article, "the president has insisted to aides that he really defeated Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Nov. 3," although "it is unclear whether he actually believes it." Haberman notes that "instead of conducting discreet requests for recounts, Mr. Trump has made a series of spurious claims, seizing on conspiracies fanned on the internet."

Given his long history of self-flattering delusions, I am inclined to take the president at his word: He sincerely thinks the election was stolen, because believing otherwise would mean he qualifies for the epithet he routinely hurls at his opponents. The question is how much longer Republicans will continue to aid and abet his ego-salving fantasy.