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UCSB Presidential Scholar on Trump's Refusal to Concede: "We've Become Separate Countries"

After losing the 1896 presidential race, Democrat William Jennings Bryan began the American tradition of swiftly and graciously conceding, an honorable custom observed in every election since.

Until now.

More than a month after it became arithmetically certain that Donald Trump lost his re-election bid by a wide margin -- and following weeks of recounts, baseless lawsuits and unprecedented political arm-twisting in state after state - the Republican incumbent not only has refused to concede to President-Elect Joe Biden, he also keeps falsely persuading his base that the Democrat's victory is illegitimate.

"Biden does not face an easy passage," said presidential scholar and UCSB political science Professor John Woolley. "We've become separate countries."

Woolley is co-director of The American Presidency Project, a prominent non-partisan, non-profit research operation based at the university. Since its founding in 1999, it has become the most comprehensive and authoritative online archive of original source material about the nation's presidents, now containing more than 130,000 digitized documents -- including most of Trump's tweets.

In a conversation with Newsmakers on Wednesday, Professor Woolley offered historical context and political insights about Trump's ongoing disruption of the presidential transition, citing the elections of 1824 (when Andrew Jackson decried the "corrupt bargain" in the House which made rival John Adams president); 1876 (when the vanquished Samuel Tilden and his Democratic supporters assailed Rutherford B. Hayes as "His Fraudulence"); and 2000 (when many Democrats challenged the legitimacy of George W. Bush despite Al Gore's magnanimous concession), among others, as evidence that angry allegations of fraud are not new in presidential elections.

Yet Trump's shameless behavior is sui generis, in part a performative demonstration to his hardcore political base that he remains the unyielding "fighter" who has given voice to their cultural and economic grievances, Woolley said.

"He knows it's over, but he keeps pushing," he told us. "His connection to his base is magic."

Noting that a huge majority of Republican members of Congress still refuse to acknowledge Biden's victory, Woolley said they are terrified of the power of the 74 million voters who cast ballots for Trump.

Whether Trump's current unprecedented behavior comes to be viewed as a one-off in the history of presidents -- or results in long-term profound change to our political system -- will depend largely on whether these congressional Republicans change their stance, and recognize Biden as the incoming President, after the Electoral College votes next Monday.

"That," said Woolley, "will be the key."

If you're on the blog, you can watch our conversation with John Woolley on YouTube below; if you're reading our free subscription newsletter, click through on this link. And the podcast version is here.


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