Top Republicans, Led by Trump, Refuse to Commit to Accept 2024 Election Results

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post
Former president Donald Trump speaks with Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and moderator Laura Ingraham during a Fox News town hall in Greenville, S.C., in February.

Top Republicans, led by former president Donald Trump, are refusing to commit to accept November’s election results with six months until voters head to the polls, raising concerns that the country could see a repeat of the violent aftermath of Trump’s loss four years ago.

The question has become something of a litmus test, particularly among the long list of possible running mates for Trump, whose relationship with his first vice president, Mike Pence, ruptured because Pence resisted Trump’s pressure to overturn the 2020 election.

In a vivid recent example, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) was pressed at least six times in a TV interview Sunday on whether he would accept this November’s results. He repeatedly declined to do so, only saying he was looking forward to Trump being president again.

He continued to evade the question even as the interviewer, NBC News’s Kristen Welker, reminded him that a “hallmark of our democracy is that both candidates agree to a peaceful transfer of power.”

“This is why so many Americans believe that NBC is an extension of the Democrat party at the end of the day,” Scott said at one point. “… I believe that President Trump will be our next president. It’s that simple.”

The refusal to commit to accept elections results is “deeply concerning,” said Steven Levitsky, a government professor at Harvard University who studies democracy around the world. “Accepting the results of elections is in effect the cardinal rule of democracy. It is the first rule of democratic politics. If a major party is not willing to accept defeat in elections, democracy cannot be stable.”

Trump’s push to overturn the 2020 election – and his conduct around the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol – is now at the center of two of the four criminal cases that he faces as he undertakes a comeback campaign.

During the attack, a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol as Congress was counting electoral votes. About 140 police officers were assaulted during the rioting, which led to criminal charges against over 1,200 people. Pence in particular appeared to be in danger, as Trump supporters rushed the Capitol chanting, “Hang Mike Pence.” A House committee later heard testimony that Trump indicated support for the chants.

Trump has continued to falsely claim that the 2020 election was rigged and that he won states that he did not win, such as Wisconsin.

Trump also has suggested he may not accept the results of the next election, including in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that was published last week.

“If everything’s honest, I’ll gladly accept the results. I don’t change on that,” Trump told the newspaper. “If it’s not, you have to fight for the right of the country.”

Furthermore, in recent interviews with Time magazine, Trump did not rule out the possibility of political violence if he loses again. While he said he did not think there would be violence, he added that it “always depends on the fairness of the election.”

And in a TV interview Tuesday with a Pennsylvania station, Trump downplayed the events of Jan. 6, said he did not regret disputing the 2020 election results and urged people to “follow your heart” in challenging elections.

“I think the potential for another Jan. 6 is there,” Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), who chaired the House select committee that examined the attack on the Capitol, told CBS News this week. “The majority of the people who orchestrated Jan. 6 are now saying, in so many words, ‘I’m not certain that I will accept the findings of the 2024 election.’”

Trump has made the recent comments while facing little pushback from Republicans in Congress or those potentially angling to be his running mate.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, in a TV interview Sunday, dodged a question about Trump’s comments on political violence. Burgum, like Scott, declined to contemplate a scenario in which the former president loses and said he was “looking forward to next January, when Vice President Harris certifies the election for Donald Trump.”

The White House has emphasized that Biden will accept the 2024 results, while his reelection campaign has repeatedly criticized Trump and his allies for continuing to sow doubt about the legitimacy of elections in America.

“Donald Trump’s last Vice President barely escaped the violent mob on January 6 and now refuses to endorse him because he understands the threat that Donald Trump poses to our democracy – so Trump is looking for an even more extreme MAGA sidekick in 2024,” Biden campaign spokesperson Ammar Moussa said in a statement.

Polling shows voters – especially Republicans – are far from confident in American democracy as the next presidential election nears. A Quinnipiac University survey from March found that voters were almost evenly divided on whether they thought the U.S. system of democracy was working, with a large majority of Republicans saying it was not.

Asked how confident they were that votes will be counted accurately in November, two-thirds of voters overall said they were “very” or “somewhat” confident. That number dropped to 45 percent among Republicans.

Election denialism continues to permeate the national GOP, which went through a Trump-backed takeover earlier this year.

The Washington Post reported in March that those applying for jobs at the Republican National Committee were asked in job interviews if they thought the 2020 election was stolen. And more recently, the RNC’s top lawyer, Charlies Spies, resigned amid a rift with Trump over Spies’s past criticism of Trump, including over his false claims about the 2020 election.

“Great news for the Republican Party,” Trump said Sunday on his Truth Social platform. “RINO lawyer Charlie Spies is out as Chief Counsel of the RNC. I wish him well!”

The GOP’s desire to appease Trump’s fixation on 2020 now appears to loom over his search for a running mate. He has talked about having many options and is expected to make a decision closer to the Republican National Convention, which is scheduled for mid-July.

Trump has singled out Scott as an especially helpful rival turned surrogate, joking that he has made a better case for Trump than he ever did for himself.

Scott and Burgum are not the only possible Trump running mates who have evaded questions about the potential aftermath of the 2024 election. Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), the No. 4 Republican in the House, would not commit in January to voting to certify the 2024 results as a member of Congress.

“We will see if this is a legal and valid election,” Stefanik told NBC News, citing efforts that were pending at the time to remove Trump from the primary ballot in a handful of states over his role in the Jan. 6 attack.

The Supreme Court has since sided with Trump, allowing him to remain on the ballot.

Another potential Trump vice-presidential candidate, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), declined in March to say whether he would certify the 2028 election results if he were vice president.

“If you have state officials who are violating the election law in their states … then no, I would not,” Donalds said at an Axios event.

Some of the possible vice-presidential candidates have previously taken positions at odds with Trump’s push to overturn the 2020 election. Scott, for example, voted in the Senate to certify the 2020 results – hours after the Jan. 6 attack – and said during a presidential primary debate last year that Pence “absolutely” did the right thing on Jan. 6.

Michael K. Miller, a political science professor at George Washington University who studies democracy, said Republicans like Scott are “clearly angling to be the VP, so they need to adopt the preferred rhetoric of Trump.” Regardless of whether they believe what they are saying, Miller added, “it’s very corrosive to democracy.”

“This is how democracies break down,” Miller said, later adding, “It’s such a low bar to say, ‘Yeah, the election is free and fair,’ or, ‘I will obey the results of the election.’ … You don’t deserve credit for not committing a crime.”

Asked last week about Trump’s refusal to promise to accept the election results, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden is “committed to the rule of law and protecting American democracy,” reiterating he “will accept the will of the American people.”

Moussa, the Biden campaign spokesperson, said Trump is looking for a running mate who will provide “unquestioned loyalty and allegiance to Trump and his lies, revenge, and retribution over the American people.”

“Thankfully the American people rejected Trump’s MAGA extremism in 2020,” Moussa said, “and will do so again this November.”