hillary clinton dnc 2020 0819
Hillary Clinton offers cautionary tale about this election
06:34 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Hillary Clinton has a bit of advice for Joe Biden come November 3: Don’t even think about conceding if the election is at all close.

“Joe Biden should not concede under any circumstances because I think this is going to drag out, and eventually I do believe he will win if we don’t give an inch and if we are as focused and relentless as the other side is,” Clinton told longtime Democratic strategist Jennifer Palmieri in an excerpt of Showtime’s “The Circus” released Tuesday. Added Clinton: “We’ve got to have a massive legal operation, I know the Biden campaign is working on that. We have to have poll workers, and I urge people, who are able, to be a poll worker. We have to have our own teams of people to counter the force of intimidation that the Republicans and Trump are going to put outside polling places. This is a big organizational challenge, but at least we know more about what they’re going to do.”

What Clinton envisions is an election night that could well extend into an election week or even – gulp! – an election month, because of an expected surge in mail-in balloting due to concerns about the coronavirus. If recent elections, particularly in Clinton’s adopted home state of New York, are any indication, there’s a very real possibility that no winner is declared on November 3 or November 4. And that the country will be in limbo, while waiting to know who will be the next president of the United States.

Even with a semi-traditional president in the White House, that is a situation absolutely fraught with peril. The single most important part of an election is that people believe that the vote was fairly counted and, whether or not they like the result, that it was an accurate reflection of what the country wanted. The longer it goes without a declared winner, the more people will suspect that something nefarious could be going on – even if the delay isn’t solely the result of the slowness in counting a surge of mailed-in ballots.

Donald Trump is, of course, not a semi-traditional president. Or anything close to it. In fact, he has spent the last several months suggesting to anyone who will listen that the increase in mail-in balloting will lead to a “rigged” and fraudulent election. (There is zero evidence of the sort of widespread voter fraud in mail-in balloting that Trump is alleging.)

“What they’re doing is using Covid to steal an election,” Trump told delegates at the Republican National Convention in Charlotte on Monday. “They’re using Covid to defraud the American people, all of our people, of a fair and free election.”

Remember too that Trump, in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election, insisted that 3 to 5 million people voted illegally as a way to explain the fact that he lost the popular vote to Clinton. Trump has never provided any proof of this huge claim. Neither has he backed away from it in the intervening three-plus years.

And that was an election he won!

Imagine what Trump might do this time around – assuming that we don’t know who won on election night or even sometime the following day. If it looks like he is likely to lose, Trump would use the intervening hours/days/week to sow distrust with the vote and discord in the country. He would suggest that Democrats are cooking the books, adding or subtracting votes as they see fit. He would do absolutely everything in his power to ensure that even if Biden were declared the victor on, say, November 7, that a chunk of the country would believe that the result had been fixed and biased against Trump. And that, therefore, neither they nor Trump need to accept it. No need for Trump to concede. No reason for his supporters to acknowledge Biden as the fairly elected president.

Which brings me back to Clinton. She is, on the facts, exactly right in the advice she is giving to Biden. With lots and lots of mailed-in ballots needed to be counted in the days leading up to Election Day – and on November 3 itself – it would be political malpractice for Biden to concede to Trump (or vice versa) if the election were clearly very close.

But you can be sure that her comments will be seized on by the Trump White House as evidence that Democrats are already working to lay the groundwork for a protracted vote count because they think that benefits them. (Clinton’s emphases on how Biden will “eventually” win is the reddest of red meat for conservatives.)

Because of all that, my educated guess is that the Biden campaign would rather not have Clinton offering their candidate advice on how to handle a close election. Even if she’s right.