Would it matter if either Trump or Clinton refused to concede? Yes and no.
The winner is still the winner, whether the loser acknowledges the results or not. But that doesn't mean concessions don't matter.
After an ambiguous answer from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump last month, Fox News TV host Chris Wallace followed up Sunday during an interview with Mr. Trump's running mate, Mike Pence, to ask whether the GOP candidates would accept the outcome of Tuesday's election.
It's a question that has clung to the Republican ticket like heavy fog for two-and-a-half weeks since Trump said during the third and final presidential debate that he would hold the American public "in suspense" rather than vowing before Election Day to accept the results, whether he wins or loses. That noncommittal response drew harsh criticism from those who said he threatened the very fabric of American democracy.
But the reality is that, even if either Trump or Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton were to fail to concede on election night or at any point thereafter, the electoral process would carry on anyway and place a new president in the White House. The winner is still the winner, whether the loser acknowledges the results or not.
"Concession is constitutionally irrelevant," Jeff Becker, an associate professor of political science at the University of the Pacific, tells The Christian Science Monitor.
Even though the political mechanisms will proceed without regard for whether a defeated candidate publicly acknowledges his or her loss, an artful concession remains vitally important to American political futures, Dr. Becker adds.
"Formally, a concession doesn’t matter, but perception matters tremendously in politics, and creating the common ground for people to work together towards legislation is increasingly shrinking. That’s been my concern," Becker says. "It’s not so much a formal process that’s at stake, it’s people’s willingness to abide by the process."
Trump, who has frequently claimed the election is "rigged" against him, drew criticism from members of his own party when he said he'll accept the results if he wins. Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, who lost to President Obama eight years ago, said the peaceful transition of power is "the pride of our country."
"I didn't like the outcome of the 2008 election. But I had a duty to concede, and I did so without reluctance," McCain said in a lengthy statement. "A concession isn't just an exercise in graciousness. It is an act of respect for the will of the American people, a respect that is every American leader's first responsibility."
Mr. Wallace, in prefacing his question Sunday to Mr. Pence, echoed those sentiments.
"I think you'd agree, one of the strengths of our democracy is when the election is over, no matter how ugly, the loser graciously concedes to the winner and we all rally around the new president, whoever that turns out to be," Wallace said, noting that Trump "has said different things at different times."
Wallace then asked if Pence would guarantee that Trump would concede if he loses. Pence replied in the affirmative, saying that both sides would accept "a clear outcome."
"But I think both campaigns have also been very clear that, you know, in the event of disputed results, they reserve all legal rights and remedies," Pence added.
American voters do not elect presidents directly, so although a projected winner is typically announced on Election Day, the vote is not final. Members of the Electoral College cast their votes in December, affirming that a candidate received the 270 needed to win the election, then Congress counts the electoral votes in early January, and the new president is inaugurated Jan. 20.
During the interim, if he is unsatisfied with the outcome, Trump could sue to challenge the process in court.
"He could try to litigate," University of California, Irvine professor Rick Hasen said, as The Guardian reported. "But if he loses by a wide margin he’s not likely to get far in court."
As society moves, next week, toward a post-2016 election world, now is a good time to look for ways to mend political divisions, while appreciating that American history has included many periods of heightened discord, wrote Harry Brunius for The Christian Science Monitor:
During the founding of the country, federalists thought the country was on the verge of crisis, and they saw the rough and ready politics flourishing in the states as an 18th century version of a "basket of deplorables." And though long forgotten now, one of the charges leveled against the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s was that it breached long established “standards of etiquette that surrounded and sustained Jim Crow segregation, an etiquette itself that enacted and sustained a ritual hierarchy.”
Similarly, current movements such as the tea party and Black Lives Matter often resort to a politics of disruption, and though the process may not be pleasant all the time, that doesn’t have to mean that incivility has broken down and that we stand at the brink of barbarism.
Nevertheless, there does have to be a standard of civility that communicates to political opponents that you care about behaving decently.
Becker says the road ahead demands that the party in power listen to its opponents if progress is to be made in the coming four years.
"Whoever becomes president needs to look carefully at what the sources of division are and work to create legislation and address that, address those issues that have been raised," he says. "People rallied to support Clinton, people rallied to support Trump for reasons.... What does compromise look like on those issues? Is there a way to bring back that kind of common ground?”