The Slatest

Who Cares Whether Donald Trump Accepts the Result of the Election?

Trump / Clinton
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at Wednesday’s debate in Las Vegas.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The clear topline story coming out of Wednesday night’s presidential debate in Las Vegas was Donald Trump’s refusal to commit to accepting the outcome of the upcoming election. Here’s the lead to the AP’s debate recap:

Threatening to upend a fundamental pillar of American democracy, Donald Trump refused to say Wednesday night that he will accept the results of next month’s election if he loses to Hillary Clinton.

Here’s what New York magazine’s Andrew Sullivan wrote:

Politicians and pundits on both sides of the aisle have condemned Trump’s remarks; even the candidate’s stooges have decided to take the approach of just pretending that he didn’t say what he said rather than defending it.

It’s absolutely true that Donald Trump refusing to accept a clear electoral defeat would be petty, selfish, and almost unprecedented. But here’s the question: Why would it matter? Who will care, a month from now, what someone who lost the election by, let’s say, 7 points and 150 electoral votes says about “accepting” the results?

The clear majority of Americans won’t care because they will have, by definition, just declared that they are not Donald Trump supporters.

The courts won’t care because, if the margins shake out like they’re currently projected to, there will be no plausible case that the result of the election should be overturned judicially.

Other Republican politicians won’t care because Donald Trump will have just lost an election decisively on their party’s behalf. Politicians are not known for their loyalty to decisively unpopular lost causes, and there will be plenty of other things for them to hassle Hillary Clinton about that don’t involve associating themselves with Mr. Loserman.

Even many Republican voters won’t care: Trump is already significantly less popular among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (63 percent favorability) than Clinton is among Democrats and Dem-leaning independents (79 percent). That’s not a number that’s going to go up if he goes down.

The only group that will conceivably care what Donald Trump says about the election after it’s over are hardcore Donald Trump supporters—your rally weirdos, your alt-right web hate-speech freaks. It’s very true that it would be irresponsible and despicable if Trump encouraged these people to commit acts of violence in response to “rigged” election results. But failing that, the rest of us can look forward on Nov. 9 to a much-deserved break from having any formal reason to be concerned by the things that are coming out of Donald Trump’s mouth.

Read more Slate coverage of the 2016 campaign.