CNN —  

Joe Biden said Wednesday night that he believes if President Donald Trump loses the election and refuses to leave the White House, many of the former generals who used to work for him “will escort him from the White House with great dispatch.”

The comments, which Biden made in an interview with Trevor Noah on “The Daily Show,” are not the first time that the former vice president – and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee – has suggested that he believes the incumbent may well seek to fiddle with the election results.

“Mark my words I think he is gonna try to kick back the election somehow, come up with some rationale why it can’t be held,” Biden said in April.

But the real danger here is not that Trump changes the date of the general election, which is virtually impossible, or that he seeks to claims squatter’s rights in the White House.

The thing that could threaten Biden’s potential presidency – and the ability of the country to move on from what will be one of the nastiest elections in modern history – is if Trump simply refuses to admit he lost, never conceding that Biden is the fair-and-square president.

And that, judging by Trump’s long history of refusing to ever acknowledge defeat, and instead claiming he was cheated out of victory by nefarious forces, is not only a possible outcome but a likely one if the incumbent comes up short this fall.

Consider:

* When Trump lost the 2016 Iowa caucuses to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, he argued he had been cheated. “Ted Cruz didn’t win Iowa, he stole it,” tweeted Trump. “That is why all of the polls were so wrong and why he got far more votes than anticipated. Bad!”

* When Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton in 2016 – even while winning the Electoral College and the presidency! – he said, with zero proof, that 3 to 5 million illegal votes had been cast.

* Following the loss of the House majority in the 2018 election, Trump suggested to House Republicans that they had been victimized by Democratic cheating. “We’ve gotta watch those vote tallies,” Trump told a crowd of Republican lawmakers at a Republican fundraiser in May 2019. “You know, I keep hearing about the election and the various counting measures that they have.” He added that Democrats won all of the close elections in 2018; “There’s something going on,” he said, telling the assembled lawmakers that they needed to “be a little bit more paranoid than you are, OK?”

* In advance of last month’s California House special election, which the Republican went on to win, Trump tweeted that “(Democrats) are trying to steal another election. It’s all rigged out there.”

So, yeah. There’s a pattern here.

Given his past comments – even in an election (2016) that he won! – there’s every reason to believe that even if Trump vacates the White House in January 2021 that he will never, ever concede that he lost. And that would have massive consequences on not only our politics but on the broader foundations on which American democracy is built.

Consider that in 2000, after more than a month of recounts and with considerable uncertainty about who actually won Florida, Al Gore not only ended his campaign but offered a major call for unity in the country.

“Tonight, for the sake of our unity of the people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession,” Gore said on December 13, 2000. “Neither (George W. Bush) nor I anticipated this long and difficult road, certainly neither of us wanted it to happen. Yet it came, and now it has ended. Resolved, as it must be resolved, through the honored institutions of our democracy.”

“For the sake of our unity of the people and the strengths of our democracy.”

“Resolved, as it must be resolved, through the honored institutions of our democracy.”

Can you imagine Trump, in a similar circumstance, doing or saying the same? Absolutely not! Heck, it’s hard to imagine Trump saying those words if it’s clear he was beaten on Election Day!

What the lack of any sort of formal concession from Trump would do is clear: For his legions of adoring supporters, they would also never believe that Biden had won – or that he was the recognized president, whether or not the electoral map or the popular vote proved it. Which would mean that for a decent-sized chunk of the country, Biden would be viewed as an illegitimate president and, therefore, not someone who needed to be listened to.

And it’s very easy to imagine Trump – with his 80-plus million Twitter followers and the potential that he would be the head of a TV network post-presidency – beating the drum of illegitimacy day in and day out. Because, well, it is in his interest to do so and, as he has shown repeatedly during his presidency, he has very little regard for either the office or its status as a moral beacon within the country and the world.

The result isn’t hard to imagine: An even deeper divide within the country between the Trumpists and everyone else. A divide that would make Biden’s pledge to create “One America” again an absolute pipe dream.