The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump won’t commit to a ‘peaceful transfer of power’ if he loses

Asked on Sept. 23 if he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election, President Trump said, “We’re going to have to see what happens." (Video: The Washington Post)

President Trump refused Wednesday to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election, asserting that if he doesn’t win, it will be because of fraudulent mail-in voting and not because more Americans voted against him.

His latest comments came after he has spent months making unsubstantiated claims that voting by mail is corrupt and will lead to a “rigged” election. In fact, states that have embraced universal mail voting have documented tiny rates of possible ballot fraud, data shows.

“Well, we’re going to have to see what happens. You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots and the ballots are a disaster —” Trump began when asked during a White House press briefing if he would ensure a peaceful transition.

“I understand that, but people are rioting; do you commit to making sure that there’s a peaceful transferral of power?” the reporter pressed, appearing to refer to incidents of violence that have broken out during some protests.

“Get rid of the ballots, and you’ll have a very — we’ll have a very peaceful, there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation,” Trump said. “The ballots are out of control. You know it. And you know who knows it better than anybody else? The Democrats know it better than anybody else.”

The president seems to be referring to, as he has for months now, the massive uptick in people voting by mail this fall rather than in person amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Trump continues to claim, with no evidence, that Democrats are supporting widespread mail-in voting not for public health reasons but to corrupt or commit fraud in the results.

Trump has previously been asked whether he would accept the results of the election if Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden wins. Asked by Fox News’s Chris Wallace in July, Trump said, “I have to see. Look, you — I have to see. No, I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no, and I didn’t last time, either.”

Refusing to ensure he would support a peaceful transfer of power between administrations if he loses this year’s election seems to escalate that threat amid partisan tensions.

In an October 2016 debate with then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton that was moderated, in fact, by Wallace, Trump made similar assertions. He wouldn’t say whether he’d accept the results of the election, which he claimed at the time was rigged against him. “I will look at it at the time,” Trump said. “I will keep you in suspense.” Even on the morning of the election, Trump wouldn’t commit to conceding, saying, “I want to see what happens, you know, how it goes.” Clinton called the answer “horrifying.”

His opponent this time responded incredulously to Trump’s latest comments.

“What country are we in? I’m being facetious,” Biden said. “. . . Look, he says the most irrational things. I don’t know what to say.”

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, blasted Trump’s response in a tweet.

“Fundamental to democracy is the peaceful transition of power; without that, there is Belarus,” Romney tweeted. “Any suggestion that a president might not respect this Constitutional guarantee is both unthinkable and unacceptable.”

Earlier Wednesday, Trump also sought to sow doubt in election results, predicting that deciding the winner will ultimately go to the Supreme Court.

He said that is why it is so urgent that a nominee to replace the late justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg be seated before the election.

“I think this will end up in the Supreme Court. And I think it’s very important that we have nine justices,” Trump said. “It’s better if you go before the election, because I think this, this scam that the Democrats are pulling — it’s a scam — the scam will be before the United States Supreme Court. And I think having a 4-4 situation is not a good situation.”

On Tuesday, GOP state leaders in Pennsylvania indicated that they plan to appeal to the Supreme Court a new court ruling allowing voters to return mail ballots up to three days after Election Day, potentially queuing up the first partisan election case for the court to consider since Ginsburg’s death. The decision is among a number of court rulings and legislative actions that have relaxed mail-voting rules across the country because of the pandemic. As of now, more than 198 million voters are eligible to cast ballots by mail, according to a Washington Post tracker.

Trump said Wednesday that an election case challenging mail-in ballots that goes before the Supreme Court should get a vote of “8-nothing or 9-nothing.”

“But just in case it would be more political than it should be, I think it’s very important to have a ninth justice.”