While speaking to reporters at the White House on Wednesday, President Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power, should he lose the presidential election in November.
Trump was asked if he would pledge to hand over executive power if his opponent proves victorious, which has been a hallmark of presidents since the early years of the republic.
“Well, we’re going to have to see what happens,” Trump said.
The president also implied that his refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power was due to his opposition to mail-in voting — a practice that has been in use since the Civil War, but which Trump has frequently derided throughout the past several months.
“You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots and the ballots are a disaster,” Trump said. “Get rid of the ballots, and you’ll have a very… there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation.”
Many critics have alleged, even before his comments on Wednesday, that Trump has been trying to set the stage for discrediting the outcome of the election if the results are not to his liking.
Trump is “preparing the ground for post–Election Night plans to contest the results,” The Atlantic columnist Barton Gellman wrote prior to Trump’s comments to reporters. “It is the strategy of a man who expects to be outvoted and means to hobble the count.”
There’s a strong possibility, too, that results from election night will not be the accurate count of voters, as absentee voting is expected to happen at a much higher rate this year due to coronavirus. The results on November 3 may significantly change days later, when ballots arriving through the mail are counted.
“When every legitimate vote is tallied and we get to that final day, which will be some day after Election Day, it will in fact show that what happened on election night was exactly that, a mirage,” predicted Josh Mendelsohn, CEO of Hawkfish, a Democratic-leaning data firm owned by billionaire former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
If that happens, it’s possible that Trump could dispute the outcome by attempting to discredit mail-in voting, which he has tried to do for months by lying about its potential for fraud.
Trump’s main rival in the presidential race, Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden, appeared to be flabbergasted when asked to respond to the president’s remarks.
“What country are we in?” Biden said. “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.”
As of this moment, the chances of Trump to win reelection are appearing to be slim, though not impossible. A number of prognosticators, such as The Cook Political Report, are saying Biden has a much stronger shot at winning the Electoral College. FiveThirtyEight is also suggesting the chances are higher for a Biden win, although they are also saying that, with 40 days to go until Election Day, Trump still has a 22 percent chance at repeating the same kind of upset victory he had in 2016.
In 2016, many polling organizations wrongly predicted Trump would decisively lose to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Trump wound up winning due to thin margins in three key states — Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — which helped him to secure an Electoral College victory in spite of losing the popular vote.