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In this 2016 file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks in New York on Nov. 9, 2016, where she conceded her defeat to Donald Trump after the hard-fought presidential election. (AP) In this 2016 file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks in New York on Nov. 9, 2016, where she conceded her defeat to Donald Trump after the hard-fought presidential election. (AP)

In this 2016 file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks in New York on Nov. 9, 2016, where she conceded her defeat to Donald Trump after the hard-fought presidential election. (AP)

Madeline Heim
By Madeline Heim May 31, 2024

If Your Time is short

  • Hillary Clinton has contended multiple times that Russian interference in the 2016 election affected the results. Indeed, she told an audience in 2019 that, “You can run the best campaign, you can even become the nominee, and you can have the election stolen from you.”

  • However, equating her response to that election with the Republican response to the 2020 election is a stretch. Clinton immediately conceded her loss and she did not take steps to reverse it. 

  • Donald Trump, on the other hand, refused to concede to Joe Biden in 2020 and launched legal battles across the country founded on baseless conspiracy theories to try to overturn the results.

As Election Day looms, many Republican politicians are facing the same question from reporters on the campaign trail: Will they accept the results of the 2024 election? 

Amid former President Donald Trump’s repeated false claims that he won the 2020 election, including in Wisconsin, some Republicans took up his case, casting doubt on the results and advocating for probes and policy changes they say were aimed at making elections more secure. 

Today, their answers to that question are mixed. 

In a May 2 interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Trump did not commit to accepting the results of November’s election in Wisconsin if he lost, saying he would only do so "if everything’s honest." The Cap Times reported that U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said May 19 that he would reject the outcome if he believes it’s not "honest." 

Republican businessman Eric Hovde, who is running to oust Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin from office, has struck a different tone. 

Appearing May 19 on WISN-TV’s "Upfront," Hovde said he would accept the results of his election in November and that he believes "everybody should." He also asserted it’s not just his party that deserves scrutiny on the issue. 

"I love how this has been framed recently that this is just a Republican issue," he said. "Let’s not forget, in 2016, Hillary Clinton said the election was stolen – Russian interference." 

It’s not the first time that a politician has sought to link the voter fraud claims Republicans pushed in 2020 to statements Clinton made in 2016.

But the comparison isn’t quite apples to apples. 

Here’s what to know about the issue. 

Clinton has said 2016 election was tainted

In 2016, Trump bested Clinton with 306 Electoral College votes to Clinton’s 232. However, Clinton won the popular vote, a scenario that has happened just a handful of times in American history. 

Clinton has said on several occasions that election was tainted, including in 2019, when she said, "You can run the best campaign, you can even become the nominee, and you can have the election stolen from you." 

The 2019 comment was part of a speech in Los Angeles, where she said she’d been telling candidates for the 2020 Democratic nomination that even if they ran a perfect campaign, the election could be stolen from them. 

She said she’d been reading the report on Russian election interference from special counsel Robert Mueller, and warned the same tactics could be "alive and well" in 2020. 

(The report and a bipartisan investigation conducted later by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee found that Russia did run a campaign to help Trump win, but did not draw a conclusion on whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.)

In a CBS News interview later that year, Clinton referred to Trump as an "illegitimate president" and said "he knows" about "the many varying tactics they used, from voter suppression and voter purging to hacking to the false stories." 

And in a 2017 interview with National Public Radio, she said she would not rule out questioning the 2016 election’s legitimacy if it was learned that Russia interfered more deeply than currently known. 

Unlike Trump, Clinton didn’t take steps to change election results

In 2020, President Joe Biden beat Trump with 306 Electoral College votes to Trump’s 232, and in the popular vote, getting more than 81 million votes to Trump’s 74 million. In some states, the vote totals were much closer — as in Wisconsin, where Biden won by about 20,000 votes. 

Trump refused to concede to Biden’s 2020 win, repeating unfounded conspiracy theories and launching legal battles across the country to try to overturn the results – many of which were thrown out because no widespread fraud was found. His insistence that he won the election, and Republican support of his claims, drove the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Trump maintains he won Wisconsin in 2020, but his loss has been confirmed by recounts he paid for in Dane and Milwaukee counties, court rulings, a nonpartisan state audit and a study by a prominent conservative group.

Clinton — and other Democrats — have been plain about calling the 2016 election fishy due to events during the campaign leading up to it. But even when Clinton said she wouldn’t rule out questioning the legitimacy of the results, she never took steps to do so. She conceded Trump’s win immediately after the election. 

In the 2017 NPR interview, she noted challenging the results of her election loss would be unprecedented and said, "I just don’t think we have a mechanism" for it. That’s where the comparison with Republicans’ claims of election fraud breaks down. 

As such, while both of them raised questions about their election losses, what each decided to do about it was pretty different. Trying to equate the two responses is a stretch. 

Our conclusion 

It’s not hard to find proof that Clinton did have questions and theories that led her to believe her loss in 2016 wasn’t fair. She even used the term "stolen" to describe it. 

But equating her response to that election with the Republican response to the 2020 election leaves out key context. Unlike Trump, Clinton immediately conceded, and her statements questioning the legitimacy of the 2016 election weren’t followed by action to change the results. 

It makes the two responses not so similar after all. 

 
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Our Sources

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Wisconsin's 10 Electoral College votes cast for Biden as GOP pushes an alternate slate," Dec. 14, 2020

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson from Wisconsin to join 10 others from GOP in refusing to certify Electoral College results," Jan. 2, 2021

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Tom Tiffany, Scott Fitzgerald say they would have rejected Biden's victory in Wisconsin had there been a vote in Congress," Jan. 6, 2021

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "In interview, Trump doesn't commit to accepting Wisconsin election results if he loses," May 2, 2024

The Cap Times, "Top Wisconsin Republicans mixed on accepting 2024 election results," May 19, 2024

YouTube, "Upfront: Eric Hovde 1-on-1," May 19, 2024

USA TODAY, "'You can have the election stolen from you,' Hillary Clinton warns 2020 Democrats," May 6, 2019

National Public Radio, "Senate Releases Final Report On Russia's Interference In 2016 Election," Aug. 18, 2020

The Washington Post, "Hillary Clinton: Trump is an ‘illegitimate president,’" Sept. 26, 2019

National Public Radio, "Clinton Won't Rule Out Questioning 2016 Election, But Says No Clear Means To Do So," Sept. 18, 2017

PolitiFact, "Did Democrats suggest 2016 presidential election was stolen?" Oct. 5, 2022

Politico, "Clinton concedes to Trump: ‘We owe him an open mind,’" Nov. 9, 2016

National Public Radio, "'Far From Over': Trump Refuses To Concede As Biden's Margin Of Victory Widens," Nov. 7, 2020

National Public Radio, "Trump Election Lawsuits Have Mostly Failed. Here's What They Tried," Nov. 10, 2020

 

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