Mitch McConnell, discussing the 2020 US presidential election, was quoted as follows:

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in Congress, said that Trump is "within his rights" to challenge the outcome, and criticized Democrats for expecting the president to concede.

“President Trump is 100% within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options,” McConnell said. “Let’s not have any lectures about how the president should immediately, cheerfully accept preliminary election results from the same characters who just spent four years refusing to accept the validity of the last election.”

What was he referring to by "spent four years refusing to accept the validity of the last election"? e.g., has he, or other officials previously made statements to that effect in more detail?

Political opponents of President Trump (i.e., Democrats) obviously were displeased by the 2016 election, and some of that might have come from the fact that Trump "lost" the popular vote even while winning the Electoral College. However, displeasure doesn't automatically rise to the level of "refusing to accept" the election results, so I assume the senator is referring to something more specific?

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    Rank and file liberals everywhere. To use a pair of the man's favorite words, hopefully the "sad" display of a "loser" who happens to be the President doing the same thing will help them feel better about themselves. At least that's my take, this is unanswerable and I've voted to close it as such. Nov 13, 2020 at 11:07
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    @JaredSmith its a quote from a senator... if he has made other statements elaborating on what he meant then its perfectly answerable... When I read his quote I genuinely felt it was vague and unclear, and that's the only reason I asked the question. So far I've found the answers helpful in explaining at least what his point of view may have been. Nov 13, 2020 at 12:39
  • @JaredSmith just to be clear and because I'm curious, what VTC reason did you use? Nov 13, 2020 at 12:40
  • @UuDdLrLrSs the speculative one. Unless somebody kind find a reference where he elaborated you'd have to ask Mitch McConnell what he meant, which we can't do. I think it's an interesting question, and (presumably) like you I'd like to know what he meant by that, but any answer we give is going to speculative. Nov 13, 2020 at 14:30

5 Answers 5


I wondered the same thing as you on seeing the quote from Mitch McConnell. I don't think there's a way to know for certain who he might have been referring to, but I found this article from the Washington Post regarding a September 2019 CBS interview with Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton dismissed President Trump as an “illegitimate president” and suggested that “he knows” that he stole the 2016 presidential election in a CBS News interview to be aired Sunday.

As you noted in the question, I don't know that this comes to the level of "refusing to accept the validity of the last election", but for political posturing this met my close enough litmus test to give the statement a pass.

I don't believe it runs to the same level as the current events in terms of non-acceptance, but it appears that for partisan purposes these two actions, declaring a presidency illegitimate (Clinton), and launching multiple lawsuits to overturn an election result(Trump) are a question of degree rather than kind.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Please use the chatroom if you want to discuss further. Please use comments only to suggest improvements to the post.
    – JJJ
    Nov 12, 2020 at 10:05
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    Once in 2019 is hardly "spent 4 years". I remember jokes about how she was walking in the woods for all of 2017, not saying much at all. Nov 12, 2020 at 22:56
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    Expressing an opinion versus taking affirmative actions (and in the case of the GSA, refusing to take certain actions) and making objectively false assertions of facts advancing a point of view seem like a difference of kind, not degree, to me. Nov 13, 2020 at 3:27
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    I believe Clinton’s comment was about the injustice of the Electoral College, not illegal maneuvering to misrepresent the votes of individual Americans at a mass scale, which is what Trumpers are alleging. She promptly accepted the facts for what they were, even though more Americans would rather have her as president and most Americans are against the Electoral College (unless that has changed in recent years). Nov 14, 2020 at 6:05

A common complaint Republicans have had over the last four years is that Democrats did not give President Trump a chance to accomplish great things because they were still unhappy that Trump won/Hillary Clinton lost. This is not entirely false, but the Democrat claim itself isn't completely without merit.

“I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton,” [Democratic Representative John] Lewis said.

Considering how close the 2016 election was, the FBI's report of Russian interference could not (and can not) be adequately gauged as to how many votes it swayed, and thus, whether or not the Russian interference would have made the difference in electing Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.

But as the Republican story goes, the mainstream media was so wrong at predicting the winner of the 2016 election that the Democrats felt that the election was somehow illegitimate or stolen. And that by constantly bringing up new scandals and investigating Trump for what Republicans perceive as either made-up or comparatively minor offenses, they effectively forced President Trump to spend his entire term on defense. This, in turn, was what kept President Trump from accomplishing many of the things he set out to do.

This is also the origin of the 'joke' that Trump deserves four more years because his first four were 'taken' by fake scandals.

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    Didn't Republicans control House, Senate and Presidency 2016 to 2018?
    – Jontia
    Nov 11, 2020 at 16:22
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    @Jontia Oh, certainly. That's why I separated the paragraphs. The first has facts, the second has feelings.
    – Carduus
    Nov 11, 2020 at 17:10
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    It needs to be added on that many Republicans characterize Pres. Trump's impeachment as "an attempt to overturn the 2016 election," and that surely contributes to McConnell's claim that Democrats "refused to accept" his election.
    – Seth R
    Nov 12, 2020 at 15:20
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    @HarryJohnston, I don't think Sen. McConnell or any of the other Republicans echoing this rhetoric draw that distinction. Or they are at least hoping you don't. The party line around the impeachment from Republicans was that the allegations charged to Pres. Trump were baseless and only brought about because Democrats still did not accept Trump's election. This statement is consistent with that narrative.
    – Seth R
    Nov 12, 2020 at 19:25
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    @SethR: I think it goes further than just the impeachment. To my eye, McConnell's statement is trying to sweep in all the "not my president" protests as well (remember those?). Basically, he's lumping everyone who didn't like President Trump together and mischaracterizing them as having "refused to accept the validity of the election" just because they didn't like Trump.
    – Kevin
    Nov 13, 2020 at 1:23

There is a key difference between the claims involving the 2016 and 2020 elections.

In 2016 the claims centered around foreign interference to influence voters and there was not claims of voter fraud that would invalidate the election. The only claims from this election around voter fraud came from the Trump camp with claims that he would have won the popular vote without the voter fraud.

In 2020 the claims center around voter fraud with the Trump camp claiming that there was massive voter fraud similar to 2016 but in this case it caused him not only to lose the popular vote but also the electoral college.

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    While I think the statements in the answer are generally true, I don't think this answers the actual question, which focuses on "who is McConnell referring to" and not "is the parallel McConnell draws an accurate/fair one".
    – V2Blast
    Nov 12, 2020 at 5:14
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    @V2Blast The problem is that McConnell is not referring to anyone specifically, he's just repeating a claim that Trump has made numerous times during his term, especially during his impeachment.
    – Barmar
    Nov 12, 2020 at 14:23

It's not an official attempt by the Democratic Party or its members to overturn the results of the 2016 election or to deny them, but it is worth noting that the "Not My President" phrase has been repeated over the past 4 years by some supporters of the Democratic Party. They didn't invent the phrase, but this New York Times article characterizes it as a chorus "that’s been building among the left since the supposed free election of Donald J. Trump".

There were even a series of rallies for "Not My President's Day" in February 2017.

When I hear conversations about people refusing to accept the results of the last election, these are typically the people being referred to rather than official procedures to question the validity 2016 election.

  • Huh. That explains why I've seen some Repbulicans very strongly use the phrase "YOUR president" when arguing with Democrats. I always thought that was really weird because it seemed to come out of nowhere.
    – DKNguyen
    Nov 13, 2020 at 22:30

I don't think McConnell is referring to anyone specifically.

Since Trump took office, there have been many calls for his impeachment and removal from office, and one successful impeachment. Trump often referred to anyone who advocated his impeachment as trying to use this method to overturn the 2016 election.

McConnell is simply referring to these all these people, parrotting Trump's bluster. It's pure rhetoric, and it's no more meaningful to ask who he's referring to than to ask who moon landing conspiracy theorists are referring to. He's just trying to justify Trump's challenges to the results of the 2020 election. Since there's little validity to Trump's challenges, the best he can do is vague equivalences like this.

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    Yep, I think this is ultimately the answer. Trump's/McConnell's intent likely isn't to refer to any specific incident by any specific Democrat, but to simply rile up their base and gain support in order to hold onto power any way they can. I suspect that even if asked for specifics, McConnell would deflect and point to "the media" and "the radical left"...
    – V2Blast
    Nov 13, 2020 at 0:41
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    I don't see how impeachment could count as "overturning the election" - it would have just resulted in Mike Pence taking over, right? The Republicans would still be in the White House. No different from when Boris Johnson took over as PM from Theresa May. Nov 13, 2020 at 3:04
  • @HarryJohnston What does Pence have to do with it -- everything is about Trump.
    – Barmar
    Nov 13, 2020 at 4:33
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    "One successful impeachment" followed by one successful acquittal ... and not sure if a 100% partisan "impeachment" counts as "successful" - especially considering the lack of laws broken (compared to say Bill's impeachment) and the 1 or 2 votes that voted against party lines were Democrats voting against impeachment in the house...
    – WernerCD
    Nov 13, 2020 at 8:27
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    @WernerCD I was just trying to categorize all the anti-Trump actions more specifically. The fact that the impeachment and acquittals supports his characterization of there being various groups trying to undo the election.
    – Barmar
    Nov 13, 2020 at 18:43

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