Trump Won’t Commit to ‘Peaceful’ Post-Election Transfer of Power

WASHINGTON — President Trump declined an opportunity on Wednesday to endorse a peaceful transfer of power after the November election, renewing his baseless warnings about extensive voting fraud before saying there would be no power transfer at all.

Asked whether he would “commit here today for a peaceful transferral of power after the November election,” Mr. Trump demurred, passing on a chance to call for a calm and orderly election process.

“We’re going to have to see what happens,” he told a reporter during a news conference at the White House. “You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster.”

“I understand that, but people are rioting,” responded the reporter, Brian Karem of Playboy magazine, who repeated the question.

“Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation,” the president said. That was an apparent reference to mail-in ballots, which for months he has railed against, without evidence, as rife with fraud and likely to produce a delayed, tainted or outright illegitimate election result.

Mr. Trump’s refusal — or inability — to endorse perhaps the most fundamental tenet of American democracy, as any president in memory surely would have, was the latest instance in which he has cast grave uncertainty around the November election and its aftermath. Democrats are growing increasingly alarmed as Mr. Trump repeatedly questions the integrity of the vote and suggests that he might not accept the results if he loses.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr. Trump said he needed to swiftly confirm a successor for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg because he expected disputes over the election result to be resolved by the Supreme Court, which could split 4-to-4 if a ninth justice is not seated.

“He’s threatening the election process and saying out loud what everyone has assumed he’s been thinking,” said Julian E. Zelizer, a professor of American political history at Princeton University. “The more he makes these arguments, the more he normalizes the fact that this can be part of the conversation.”

“Even if meant to distract, these are powerful words to come from a president,” Mr. Zelizer added. “He’s clearly accelerating his effort to set up a challenge to an outcome that is unfavorable to him.”

Hours after Mr. Trump’s assertions, Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, expressed alarm over the comments on Twitter. “Fundamental to democracy is the peaceful transition of power; without that, there is Belarus,” Mr. Romney wrote. “Any suggestion that a president might not respect this Constitutional guarantee is both unthinkable and unacceptable.”

Mr. Trump’s remarks are a continuation of a long series. During an interview with Fox News in July, Mr. Trump similarly demurred when pressed by the network’s anchor, Chris Wallace, to “give a direct answer” about whether he would accept the election results regardless of the outcome.

Election 2020 ›

Understand Mail-In Voting

    • Rise in Mail Voting: About three-quarters of all American voters will be eligible to receive a ballot in the mail for the 2020 election — the most in U.S. history. Roughly 80 million mail ballots may flood election offices, more than double what was returned in 2016.
    • Surge in Paper Mail: The long-troubled Postal Service may be overwhelmed by the task of delivering tens of millions more votes cast by mail.
    • How to Count Ballots? There may be various battles over how to count ballots. Should mailed ballots be counted if they are received by Election Day or simply postmarked by Election Day? Does a ballot count if the post office does not postmark it at all?
    • Do You Still Have Time?: Voters in 35 states can request ballots so close to Election Day that it may not be feasible for their ballots to be mailed to them and sent back to election officials in time to be counted. Here’s a list of state’s where it’s risky to procrastinate.
    • A Long Road to Election Day: It is estimated that party organizations, campaigns and interest groups across the county have already filed 160 lawsuits trying to shape the rules of the election.

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