Press "Enter" to skip to content

Trump’s ‘Sore Loser Syndrome’ is spreading throughout the Republican Party 

It once was an article of faith that American politicians, on both sides of the aisle, would act like good losers and graciously electoral defeat. They would concede publicly, even if they grumbled privately about election results. 

After the closely fought and contested 2000 presidential election, Vice President Al Gore offered an example. On Dec. 13, 2000, Gore told the nation, “I accept the finality of the outcome, which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College. And tonight, for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.” 

This is not to say that there have never been challenges or false accusations of election fraud or chicanery. There have been. But they were more the exception than the rule. And they never have been the stock and trade of an entire political party. 

How times have changed.  

We know what happened in 2020. We also know that Donald Trump has already refused to say unequivocally that he will accept the 2024 election result. As the former president said in a Time magazine interview last month, “If we don’t win, you know, it depends. It always depends on the fairness of an election.” 

That is bad enough, but Trump is not alone. The cancer of election denialism is metastasizing and fast becoming a key part of the Republican brand. 

It looks like 2020 may have been “a dress rehearsal” for 2024

Today, refusing to say whether they will accept the 2024 election results has become a staple among Republican leaders seeking favor with Trump and his MAGA followers. This reflects a political branding strategy and a distinctive psychological style called “sore loser syndrome.” 

As one commentator describes it, “This condition is reportedly characterized by exhibiting extreme anger; denying responsibility for a defeat while blaming others; and ‘acting out’ which may include violent acts against those considered responsible for what is deemed an undeserved, unfair negative outcome of a competition.” 

“Losers,” another says, “are more aggressive than winners on average. And that makes sense — if your rival outperforms you, you must resort to aggression to try and stop them.” 

A third student of sore losers explains, “Someone who is a sore loser may be merely spoiled.” 

Sound familiar?   

As we prepare for the 2024 election, psychologists remind us that coming to terms with loss is a sign of maturity and psychic strength. But it takes work. 

Things that people need to do to prepare for losing include anticipating having “untrue thoughts” like “the other side cheated” and not giving in to them. They need to connect with others who also feel the loss but are not sore losers. And they need to remember that bigger things than losing are at stake and focus on the importance of those bigger things.  

As Dr. James Bray, former president of the American Psychological Association, explains, “What’s important for people to understand about [an] election outcome is that—number one—you have to come to terms with it.” Political leaders must help prepare their followers for defeat and to cope with loss, even as they strive for victory. 

They show grace in defeat and ask their supporters to do likewise. Arizona Sen. John McCain provided an example on election night in 2008 after his defeat by Barack Obama. “Sen. Obama and I have had, and argued, our differences, and he has prevailed. … I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face.” 

McCain urged his supporters “to join me in not just congratulating him but offering our next president our goodwill and earnest effort to find ways to come together, to find the necessary compromises, to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity. … Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans.” 

This is not the spirit with which leading Republicans are approaching the 2024 election. They are not doing the necessary work of preparing themselves and their followers for a possible loss, in a way that puts country over party. 

Over the past week, as The New York Times reports, “Leading Republicans have refused to say flatly that they will accept the outcome of the presidential election if Donald Trump loses. … [They] have dodged the question, responded with nonanswers, or offered clear falsehoods rather than commit to a notion that was once so uncontroversial that it was rarely discussed before an election.” 

In an embarrassing display during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, among those in the running to be Trump’s vice presidential nominee, repeatedly refused to answer the question of whether he would accept the results of the 2024 election. “I’m not going to answer your hypothetical question,” he said. 

He ended the interview by predicting: “The 47th president of the United States will be Donald Trump.” And when pressed one more time: “Will you accept the election results of 2024, no matter who wins?” Scott replied, “That is my statement.” 

Scott has been joined in his evasiveness about accepting the 2024 election results by other MAGA adherents. New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, the highest-ranking woman in House Republican leadership and another potential Trump running mate, says that she will only accept the results “if they’re constitutional.” 

In an ominous sign of what is to come, she explained, “We will see if this is a legal and valid election … what we’re seeing so far is that Democrats are so desperate, they’re trying to remove President Trump from the ballot.” 

The New York Times also reports that Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance, another vice presidential aspirant, “did not respond to a request about whether he would accept the 2024 results. But he has said that, unlike Vice President Mike Pence in 2020, he would have helped Mr. Trump overturn the results, by accepting Trump electors that had not been elected by voters.” 

On Sunday, he joined Scott and Stefanik in giving an evasive answer about whether he would accept the results of the November election. “If we have a free and fair election,” Vance told CNN, “I will accept the results.” 

Of course, we all know that in the view of Trump and his acolytes, an election can be “constitutional” or “free and fair” only if they win. 

Leaders of both parties owe it to our democracy “to speak out against any attempts to undermine the integrity of our election system and undermine public confidence in whoever is declared the winner.” In everything they do, as John McCain said, they need to call on their colleagues and followers to attend to the hard work of democratic governance, namely “find(ing) the necessary compromises, to bridge our differences.” 

Sore losers can’t, and won’t, do that.   

Austin Sarat is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor Jurisprudence & Political Science at Amherst College.   

We use cookies to ensure that we provide you with the best experience. If you continue using our website, we will assume that you are happy about that.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Optimized by Optimole