The second presidential debate on Thursday will feature topics like “Fighting COVID-19” and “Leadership” but it remains unclear whether the moderator will ask President Donald Trump if he’s willing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power in the event of a victory for Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
Trump, who trails by an average of nearly 10 percentage points in national polls, has passed up opportunities to make such a commitment on several occasions in recent months, including at the first debate in late September.
In a new interview, New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof told Yahoo Finance that Trump’s reluctance to affirm a cornerstone of American Democracy is “absolutely” concerning, adding that Trump’s potential effort to keep hold of power “really does matter” if the election ends up close.
“One of the things that I've learned from Trump's presidency is that sure, we're a nation of laws,” says Kristof, a liberal who supported former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s bid against Trump in 2016. “But maybe even more so, we're a nation of norms and institutions.”
“That is one of the basic norms that politicians traditionally have always honored: I lose, I call up the victor and and congratulate him or her,” he adds. “So we're seeing a retreat from that norm as from so many others.”
“If it's a clear-cut election result, I don't think that much matters,” he adds. “I don't think that if it's a clear election result, there is any chance that President Trump is able to chain himself to the Resolute Desk and stay in the White House. But if it's a disputed election, boy that really does matter.”
‘We’re going to have to see what happens’
In September, when asked directly about a commitment to a peaceful transition, Trump refused. “Well, we're going to have to see what happens,” he said. At the vice presidential debate earlier this month, Vice President Mike Pence declined to talk about what he would do if Trump refuses to step down.
Yahoo Finance earlier this month put the question to 43 of Trump’s top business and economic allies, many of whom are billionaires who’ve contributed at least $1 million in support of his campaigns or inauguration. Three provided assurances Trump will ultimately step down if certified results show he has lost; the rest did not respond.
For his part, Biden has predicted that Trump will abide by the election results if he loses. “The president will step down,” Biden told Reuters on Sept. 30. “The American people will not stand for it.”
Kristof, who has written for the New York Times in various capacities since 1984, co-created a new documentary entitled “Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope,” based on a book co-authored with his wife and former Times reporter Sheryl WuDunn that chronicles how rising inequality has impacted his hometown of Yamhill, Oregon.
He said an overwhelming victory for either candidate at the ballot box is the best way to avoid potential unrest that accompanies a disputed election.
“I hope that it is a decisive election,” he says.
Kristof spoke to Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in an episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
As of Wednesday, a presidential forecast calculated by FiveThirtyEight gave Trump a 12% chance of winning the election, in keeping with a polling average compiled by the news organization that showed Trump trailing Biden by 9.9 percentage points.
Trump still has “a path” to victory but it’s more likely Biden will win in a landslide than Trump will win at all, Kristof said.
“There is a possibility that things will come together [for Trump],” said Kristoff. “I think it’s unlikely.”
“But could it happen? Absolutely,” he adds.