After losing at the Supreme Court, he has no legal alternatives and ought to concede.
The Electoral College meets Monday to cast its votes for President, officially marking Joe Biden as the election winner. President Trump’s legal challenges have run their course, and he and the rest of the Republican Party can help the country and themselves by acknowledging the result and moving on.
Mr. Trump’s last legal gasp came Friday evening when the Supreme Court declined to hear the Texas lawsuit seeking to overturn the election results in Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. As we predicted, the Court cited Texas’s lack of legal standing to challenge how another state manages its elections.
Some on the right claim that Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented, but this is wrong. The Justices said they would have taken the Texas case as a “bill of complaint” when states sue other states.
This is a technical point that concerns the Court’s case management, and the two Justices have a long-time view that the Court should hear more of these direct state appeals. We happen to agree, but in this case the Texas claim was outside constitutional bounds. Justice Alito (joined by Justice Thomas) added that he would “not grant other relief.” This was not a dissent on the merits of the Texas claim.
Mr. Trump and his camp are attacking the Court, and the President is deriding the “standing” point as a dodge. It is much more than that. Limits on standing are fundamental to a conservative understanding of the proper judicial role under Article III of the Constitution. If anyone can sue without a cognizable injury and the possibility of remedy, the courts would be overwhelmed with frivolous claims.
The Court made the right call, and it would be refreshing if the political left that has relentlessly attacked Mr. Trump’s judicial appointees as partisans admitted how wrong they’ve been. We’ve lost track of the many claims by Democrats and the press that Mr. Trump appointed Amy Coney Barrett to steal the election. She and Mr. Trump’s other two Court appointees did not dissent in the Texas case.
Mr. Trump’s nominees have performed admirably in the post-election controversies across the federal bench. The judges have examined the facts in light of the law and dismissed claims not backed by evidence. In some cases the opinions have been withering. The contrast is striking with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which is highly partisan and rules consistently for Democrats in political cases.
This is one more example in which the claims that Mr. Trump would somehow hijack American democracy have been proven false. The President huffs and tweets but he never blows the country’s core institutions down. The checks and balances have held.
The spectacle of so many House Republicans endorsing the Texas suit is depressing, and they aren’t profiles in courage. But their critics would have more credibility if they hadn’t promoted the Russia “collusion” lies for four years and indulged Hillary Clinton’s claims to this day that the Russians elected Mr. Trump in 2016. This is one reason that tens of millions of Americans are inclined to believe Mr. Trump’s election claims despite the losses in court.
They have seen that Democrats and the press never accepted the legitimacy of Mr. Trump’s victory in 2016. Recall that in January 2017 no less a Democratic authority than the celebrated Rep. John Lewis, since deceased, said “I don’t see this President-elect as a legitimate President” because the Russians elected him. He and other Democrats made a show of skipping the inauguration in protest. Was that an attack on democracy?
None of this excuses Mr. Trump’s attempts to delegitimize Mr. Biden’s victory on Nov. 3. There is no doubt that mass mail-in balloting led to more election problems, such as varying rules for signature verification in different Pennsylvania counties. Improving ballot integrity for mailed ballots should be a legislative priority in the states in the next two years.
But these irregularities do not add up to a stolen election in multiple states. Even if Mr. Biden’s narrow victory was overturned in one of the closely contested states, he would have more than 270 electoral votes. John Kerry and Al Gore both would have won had they not narrrowly lost Ohio and Florida, respectively, but they both conceded (Mr. Gore after a long legal fight). Richard Nixon conceded in 1960 despite evidence that he was cheated out of Illinois. All did so at least in part to avoid tipping the U.S. into irreparable political division.
There’s no predicting how Mr. Trump will behave. He rarely takes our advice—we said in January 2017 that he should fire James Comey upon taking office—and perhaps he will continue his “stolen” election claims past Jan. 20. Perhaps he can’t admit to himself that he lost. Perhaps he hopes to nurture resentment to run again in 2024.
But bitterness as a political strategy rarely wears well. If Republicans lose the Georgia Senate runoffs on Jan. 5, Mr. Trump will deserve much of the blame. If election protests turn to violence in the streets, as they did on the weekend in Washington, he will be blamed whether he deserves it or not. Mrs. Clinton’s example of still claiming she was cheated, four years later, hasn’t enhanced her reputation.
There’s a time to fight, and a time to concede. Mr. Trump has had his innumerable days in court and lost. He would do far better now to tout his accomplishments in office, which are many, and accept his not so horrible fate as one of 45 former American Presidents.
The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board
The Wall Street Journal
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This article appeared in the December 14, 2020, print edition.