Transcript: What If a US Presidential Candidate Refuses to Concede After an Election

Full text of political commentator Van Jones’ TED talk: What If a US Presidential Candidate Refuses To Concede After an Election.


Van Jones – Political commentator

Okay, as an attorney, as a political commentator, and frankly, as a former White House official, I used to think I knew a lot about how America picks a president.

I was wrong, I did not know.

And this year, I’ve been doing some research into some of the fine-print and all the different things in our constitution that we never talk about, and I’ve discovered some legal loopholes that shocked me, I guarantee will shock you, and could determine the way that the presidential election of 2020 turns out.

For instance, did you know that under our constitution, a presidential candidate could actually lose the popular vote, fail to get a majority in the electoral college, refuse to concede, manipulate hidden mechanisms in our government and still get sworn in as the president of the United States of America?

That’s a true fact. I know it sounds like some crazy “House of Cards” episode, and I wish it was, because then we could just change the channel, but I just described to you a real-world, real-life possibility that could occur this year, the year I’m talking, in 2020, or in some other year, if we don’t fix some of these glitches in our system.

So if you think, though, that the American people’s choice in a US presidential election should actually be sworn in to become president of the United States, please pay attention to this talk. I’m going to teach you how to stop a coup, okay?

Now, where to begin?

All right, how about this: It turns out that one of the main safeguards of US democracy is not in the constitution at all. It’s not in the law at all. It’s actually just a little tradition, it’s a little custom. And yet, this one voluntary gesture is one of the main reasons that you almost never have riots and bloodshed and strife after a US election.

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What I’m talking about is a concession speech. OK, it’s ironic, it’s the one speech no presidential candidate ever wants to give, and yet, it is that public address that is most important for the health and the well-being of our nation.

It’s that speech, you know, when a presidential contender gives, it’s after the advisers come and the media tells them, “Look, you’re not going to get enough votes to be able to hit that magic number of 270 electoral college votes. You’re just not going to get there.”

At that moment — you don’t think about this, but the fate of the entire republic is in the hands of a single politician and their willingness to walk out there and stand in front of their family and stand in front of the cameras and stand in front of the whole nation and say, “I am conceding the race, voluntarily. Thank you to my supporters. The other person has won now, congratulations to them, let’s unite behind them, let’s move on, let’s be one country. God bless America.”

You’ve seen it a thousand times. Make no mistake, this is a remarkable tradition in our country. Because at that moment, that candidate still has at her command a nationwide army of campaign activists, of die-hard partisans, tens of thousands of people. They could just as easily take up arms, take to the streets, they could do whatever they want to.

But that concession speech instantly demobilizes all of them. It says, “Hey, guys, stand down. Folks, it’s over.”

Moreover, that concession speech helps the tens of millions of people who voted for that person to accept the outcome. Acknowledge the winner, however begrudgingly, and then just get up the next morning, go to work, go to school, maybe disappointed but not disloyal to America’s government.

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