President-elect Joe Biden has won the popular vote by more than 4 million ballots. He has more than enough electoral votes to secure victory and is likely to match President Donald Trump’s 2016 total. There is no discernible path for Trump to alter that outcome. And yet, undoubtedly stung by the loss, Trump so far has refused to concede, saying he would continue his fight in the courts.
It is, of course, Trump’s right to pursue his legal options, although his legal team has yet to produce any evidence of fraud or widespread irregularities. He can also seek recounts, though his options there are narrowing by the day. Trump initially said he would demand a recount in Wisconsin, but he trails Biden there by more than 20,000 votes. Recounts typically produce shifts that number in the hundreds, not the thousands — let alone tens of thousands.
What Trump cannot, must not, do is obstruct the transfer of power already underway. The machinery needed for such a transition is massive and intricate. Its success depends in large measure on the goodwill and cooperation of the outgoing and incoming administrations. It is one that every outgoing president has participated in willingly, mindful of the enormous responsibility they must pass on to their successor.
One of the most tangible results of Trump’s refusal to concede is that his appointee, Emily Murphy, the administrator for the General Services Administration, is blocking vital authorization that would allow the Biden transition to proceed. That authorization is needed to release everything from funds for salaries to space in agencies, access to officials and government records, and more. A responsible leader would direct that authorization even as legal efforts continue.
There are barely 10 weeks between now and when a new administration will be expected to begin governing. Every day lost in the transition jeopardizes that ability, as well as the new administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. There are other dangers as well.
While America’s historic allies are welcoming Biden and preparing for a change in leadership, foreign adversaries are watching for signs of vulnerability. They saw a big one on Monday, when Trump petulantly fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who crossed Trump with his refusal to use the military to put down civil unrest.
The period between administrations is widely recognized as a particularly delicate juncture. There appears to be little that was so pressing that Trump needed to make a last-minute change in a position critical to national security.
Trump is bent on creating turmoil and making himself the center to the very end. If he has a legal case to make, let him make it. But he should produce his evidence quickly. This nation has to move on to the business of the peaceful transfer of power that is the hallmark of our democracy.