Perils of prematurely declaring victory

Published 11:00 am Friday, November 6, 2020

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After George W. Bush declared victory during the victory of the 2000 Election, politicians have been more than eager to follow suit, and do the same.  But the decision of others to follow Bush’s example have not always met with success.  President Trump would do well to listen to his fellow Republicans and to Fox News, and not jump the gun, nor demand a halt in the counting of votes.  It won’t help the President’s standing with the American people.

There are those who feel Texas Governor George W. Bush “won” the 2000 Election simply by declaring himself the winner.  They feel he prevailed by staring to picking his cabinet officers while Vice-President Al Gore patiently waited for the recount and the courts to rule on the dispute.  It’s not the case, however.  Had the Supreme Court not intervened in the recount, we would be talking about President Gore, not President George W. Bush.  It wasn’t a public opinion contest; it was a judicial contest at that point.

Of course, the fairest way to have resolved that dispute would have been a statewide recount, and not just a few counties.  But the myth of the “who declares victory first wins” was born. Remember, it was George W. Bush who prematurely declared victory in Iraq, a “Mission Accomplished” line that his presidency would never live down as the insurgency dragged on.  It recalled the line from the late Vermont Senator George Aiken, who claimed in Vietnam that we should declare victory and leave.

Trump’s decision to declare victory (“We were getting ready to win this election, frankly we did win this election”) and then insist on halting the counting of legitimate ballots (“We want all voting to stop. We don’t want them to find any ballot at 4 o’clock in the morning and add them to the list. It’s a very sad moment”) put him at odds with many Republican leaders and conservatives in the media, not just Democratic politicians and liberal members of the media.  These include Florida Senator Marco Rubio to Utah Governor-elect Spencer Cox, from Chris Wallace at Fox News to CNN’s Rick Santorum, a former star GOP Conservative Pennsylvania Senator, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Republican Election Lawyer Benjamin Ginsburg.  Conservative columnist Marc Thiessen even added “Charging fraud when there is no evidence is just a huge mistake.”

As I watched Fox News’ coverage of the President’s late-night speech, it was met with dismay by those broadcasting on the air.  Prudence dictates taking the position that all votes be counted, hard evidence of fraud be provided, and recounts take place in close state elections.  Such actions would undoubtedly improve Trump’s chances in court, and standing in the court of public opinion.  Calling for the termination of the counting of the ballots raises all kinds of concerns about such a position, as much as any charge the president claimed on election night.  In Arizona, supporters chant “count the votes” and in Michigan they chant “stop the count.”

Biden, on the other hand, has received praise for wisely projecting confidence, while taking great pains to stop short of prematurely declaring victory.  His emphasis on counting every vote is likely to be received more positively by the American people, especially those looking for unity instead of division after so many years of the latter.

Perhaps in the coming days, Trump will listen to voices like Republican Ohio Governor Michael DeWine, who spoke to Fox News saying “We count the votes.  We believe in the rule of law.  I am for Trump, but if it ends up being Biden, all of us will accept that.”