If President Donald Trump loses this year’s election to Joe Biden, will he commit to a peaceful transition of power?
On Wednesday, he wouldn’t say.
When asked the question during a White House news briefing, Trump instead cast doubt on the reliability of election infrastructure.
“We’re going to have to see what happens,” the president responded to a reporter. “You know, I’ve been complaining about the ballots and the ballots are a disaster.”
Trump has repeatedly expressed doubt about the current election infrastructure, even though numerous studies have found voter fraud to be exceedingly rare in the U.S. The president has waged a campaign against the unprecedented number of mail-in ballots expected this year amid the coronavirus pandemic, alleging that vote-by-mail is less secure than other forms of voting. He pushed a baseless theory that foreign actors are plotting to send in fake ballots, though his own intelligence community has found no evidence of such a plot.
The election also comes on the heels of a summer of unrest, with anti-racism protesters, far-right demonstrators and law enforcement at times squaring off in highly publicized clashes. When asked on Wednesday about the potential public disturbances that could follow this year’s election, Trump said: “Get rid of the ballots, you’ll have a very transfer — you’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation.”
“And the ballots are out of control,” he continued. “You know it. And you know who knows it better than anybody else? The Democrats.”
Shortly after the comment, Trump pivoted to touting his soon-to-be-announced Supreme Court nominee and calling the potential implementation of stricter FDA guidelines for the authorization of a coronavirus vaccine a “political move.” He abruptly left the news briefing, telling reporters that he had an emergency phone call.
When asked about Trump’s briefing, Biden responded to reporters: “What country are we in? I‘m being facetious.“
“Look, he says the most irrational things,” Biden said, according to a press pool report. “I don‘t know what to say.”
The Biden campaign responded to a POLITICO inquiry about the briefing with a July statement from campaign spokesman Andrew Bates: “The American people will decide this election. And the United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, who served as a manager of Trump’s impeachment earlier this year, tweeted in response to Trump’s briefing: “This is how democracy dies. A president so desperate to cling to power that he won’t commit to a peaceful transition of power. That he seeks to throw out millions of votes. And a Republican Party too craven to say a word. But we will fight back. America belongs to the people.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee who voted for Trump’s ouster during his impeachment trial this year, also expressed dismay at the president’s briefing.
“Fundamental to democracy is the peaceful transition of power; without that, there is Belarus,” he tweeted, in reference to the post-election tumult that has gripped the Eastern European country. “Any suggestion that a president might not respect this Constitutional guarantee is both unthinkable and unacceptable.”
Romney has been singular among his Republican colleagues in his criticisms against the president, and a number of his former staffers openly endorsed Biden for president.
Wednesday’s news briefing isn’t the first time Trump demurred from pledging a smooth transition. Trump has similarly refused to commit to accepting the results of the November election, saying in July that he would “have to see” how things went.
“No, I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no, and I didn’t last time, either,” he said during an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace.
Trump over the summer also suggested pushing back the election amid the coronavirus pandemic, though he has no authority to change its date. Even members of his own party quickly dismissed the suggestion as off the table.
He has also repeatedly claimed that Democrats are out to “rig” the election, and said at an event in Wisconsin that “the only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged.”
It’s not a new tactic. Trump said back in 2016 that the only way he would lose Pennsylvania was if the Democrats “cheat.” (Trump went on to narrowly win that state.)
But his latest spate of comments come amid a number of actions directed at delegitimizing the election. He has called on law enforcement to be deployed at election sites, and even encouraged supporters to vote twice as a way to safeguard against what he characterized as a feeble election system. Local election officials had to clarify that voting twice is illegal.
The chairwoman of the Federal Elections Commission, Ellen Weintraub, shot back at Trump‘s Wednesday suggestion that the ballots were “out of control“ and that he wanted to “get rid“ of them.
“In case anyone is unclear on the concept, in the United States of America, we do not ‘get rid of‘ ballots. We count them,” she tweeted. “Counting the ballots — *all* the ballots — is the way we determine who leads our country after our elections. The only way.”
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