Donald Trump faced a bipartisan chorus of criticism Thursday for suggesting he might ignore the results of the election if he loses, with President Obama denouncing the statement as an attack on the country’s democracy.
“When last night at the debate Trump becomes the first major party nominee in American history to suggest that he will not concede despite losing the vote and then says today that he will accept the results if he wins, that is not a joking matter,” Obama said at a boisterous rally for Hillary Clinton in Miami.
“That is dangerous because when you try to sow the seeds of doubt in people's minds about the legitimacy of our elections, that undermines our democracy,” Obama went on. “Our democracy depends on people knowing that their vote matters. That those who occupy the seats of power were chosen by the people.”
The president was just the most prominent voice among Democrats denouncing the GOP nominee.
Vice President Joe Biden responded with gravity — “a threat to our democratic process,” he declared at a campaign stop in New Hampshire — and former President Bill Clinton with sarcasm. “We'd all like that if life were like that, wouldn't we?” he scoffed during a swing through Nevada. “If we won every moment of every day.”
Speaking at Clinton rally in Phoenix, First Lady Michelle Obama suggested Trump was “threatening the idea of America itself.”
Ever since he started sinking in polls, Trump has asserted — without proof — that the presidential election is rigged against him. Pressed during the third and final debate, he twice declined to say he would accept the outcome of the election if he loses.
“I will look at it at the time,” Trump said. “I’ll keep you in suspense.”
On Thursday, he made light of his remarks, which drew gasps inside the debate hall and an angry rebuke from Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee.
“I want to make a major announcement today," he said at a rally in Delaware, Ohio. "I would like to promise and pledge to all of my voters and supporters and to all of the people of the United States that I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election — if I win.”
Turning serious, he said, “Of course I would accept a clear election result, but I would also reserve my right to contest or file a legal challenge in the case of a questionable result.”
“I will follow and abide by all the rules and traditions of all of the many candidates who came before me,” he said, “always.”
Democrats were not alone in chiding Trump’s debate-night demurral.
"I didn’t like the outcome of the 2008 election. But I had a duty to concede, and I did so without reluctance,” said Arizona Sen. John McCain, who lost to Obama as the GOP nominee eight years ago. “A concession isn’t just an exercise in graciousness. It is an act of respect for the will of the American people, a respect that is every American leader’s first responsibility.”
Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah told the student newspaper at Brigham Young University that Trump’s statements were “frightening beyond my ability to describe... It delegitimizes the entire process in a way that is really dangerous.”
New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who is locked in a tough reelection fight owing, in part, to Trump’s presence atop the ticket, said, "The voters are going to decide this election and Donald Trump needs to accept the outcome. If there are reports that need to be investigated, they will be.”
Notably silent were the GOP leaders in Congress, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin — who last week said he would stop defending Trump — and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Other Republicans, who couldn’t avoid it, did their best to elide the subject.
Campaigning in Indiana on behalf of GOP Rep. Todd Young, Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa said she could not speak for Trump.
"I hope that the election is fair, I don’t want to make any accusatory statements out there and I hope that if it is fair, that we accept that," Ernst said.
According to Politico, a spokeswoman later clarified that Ernst “believes that while we must always protect against voter fraud, there is no evidence of any effort to rig this election."
Young, who is running for Senate, neither supported nor criticized Trump. He said he missed the debate, because he was reading at the time.