IT WOULD have been unthinkable, not long ago, for a White House to have to issue such a clarification. Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany averred Thursday that President Trump “will accept the results of a free and fair election.” Ms. McEnany was not rebutting some kind of fevered left-wing conspiracy theory but the president’s own words. “We’re going to have to see what happens,” Mr. Trump said Wednesday when asked whether he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power. “Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation,” he said.

Sadly, there’s a limit to how much reassurance Ms. McEnany can provide. Mr. Trump will reserve to himself the right to determine whether the election is “free and fair,” and he has already said the only way he could lose is through fraud. Mr. Trump and Attorney General William P. Barr have pre-spun the results by fanning conspiracy theories about mail-in ballots. “Get rid of the ballots” means curbing the mail-in voting that large numbers of Democrats say they will use this year.

There’s a touch, but only a touch, more reassurance to be had from the mild condemnations that Republicans issued following the president’s antidemocratic statement. There is some comfort in the fact that they said anything at all; such things are not guaranteed these days. But it is easy for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to say that “the winner of the November 3rd election will be inaugurated on January 20th.” It may take more gumption for them to do the right thing after their president has spun a narrative of massive electoral fraud.

The most distinct danger, in other words, is not that Mr. Trump will refuse to cede power after unambiguously losing. It is plausible he will lead in key states on the evening of Nov. 3, based on an advantage in in-person voting — and that his lead will then diminish or disappear as mailed ballots are counted. If he falsely portrays the shift or the delay as scandalous, will Republicans stand up for democracy and the truth? Or will they support him as he seeks to do what he has openly said he intends — to “get rid of the ballots”?

A president with a modicum of decency would seek to reduce national tensions and assure Americans that the government is working to ensure that every American has a fair opportunity to vote. During a pandemic, that would mean acknowledging that many more Americans will want to vote by mail, which was not controversial until Mr. Trump decided it might hurt his chances. It would mean explaining that the shift toward mail-in voting might make things feel different — full results will not be available on election night, for example — but assuring people that this is not evidence of fraud.

That is not the president we have. So it falls to others — Democrats and, we hope, Republicans — to explain and explain again. Mail-in and early voting are safe and appropriate. The winner may not be known on election night. It is more important that every vote be counted. Vote, be patient, and do not be swayed by the president’s lies.

Read more: