Washington • President Donald Trump on Wednesday again declined to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the Nov. 3 presidential election.
“We’re going to have to see what happens,” Trump said at a news conference, responding to a question about whether he’d commit to a peaceful transfer of power. “You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster.”
Trump has been pressing a monthslong campaign against mail-in voting this November by tweeting and speaking out critically about the practice. More states are encouraging mail-in voting to keep voters safe amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, was among those who responded. He tweeted: “Fundamental to democracy is the peaceful transition of power; without that, there is Belarus. Any suggestion that a president might not respect this Constitutional guarantee is both unthinkable and unacceptable.”
And Trump’s opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, said, according to the Guardian, "What country are we in? I’m being facetious. I said what country are we in? Look, he says the most irrational things. I don’t know what to say.”
The president, who uses mail-in voting himself, has tried to distinguish between states that automatically send mail ballots to all registered voters and those, like Florida, that send them only to voters who request a mail ballot. Utah is a primarily mail-in voting state, though people can vote on Election Day if they choose.
Trump has claimed that widespread mail voting will lead to massive fraud. The five states, including Utah, that routinely send mail ballots to all voters have seen no significant fraud.
Trump on Wednesday appeared to suggest that if states got “rid of” the unsolicited mailing of ballots there would be no concern about fraud or peaceful transfers of power.
“You’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer frankly,” Trump said. “There’ll be a continuation. 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.”
In a July interview, Trump similarly refused to commit to accepting the results, and he made similar comments ahead of the 2016 election.
“I have to see. Look ... I have to see,” Trump told Chris Wallace during a wide-ranging July interview on “Fox News Sunday.” “No, I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no, and I didn’t last time either.”
The Biden campaign responded Wednesday, as it did after Trump’s July comments: “The American people will decide this election. And the United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House.”
It is highly unusual that a sitting president would express less than complete confidence in the American democracy’s electoral process. But Trump four years ago, when in the closing stages of his race against Hillary Clinton, also declined to commit to honoring the election results if the Democrat won.
When asked during an October 2016 debate about whether he would abide by the voters' will, Trump responded that he would “keep you in suspense.”
It’s unlikely that any chaos in states with universal mail-in voting will cause the election result to be inaccurately tabulated, as Trump has suggested.
Romney has been one of Trump’s constant foils in Washington. He’s the only Republican who voted to remove the president in the Senate impeachment trial, where Trump was acquitted.
On Tuesday, Romney said he would support a rapid process to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Seen as one of the few potential holdouts, Romney’s decision likely means Trump has the votes necessary to add a conservative justice to the bench, creating a 6-3 majority.
Trump, on Wednesday, also said he wants to fill this opening fast because he believes the election will end up in the courts.
Madhani reported from Chicago. Salt Lake Tribune editor Matt Canham contributed to this report.