‘I’m being asked to waive centuries of legal precedent designed to protect the voters,’ the Republican nominee declares at an Ohio rally.
Donald Trump will accept the outcome come Nov. 8 — “if I win,” the Republican presidential nominee declared Thursday, mocking critics who have scolded him for suggesting he may not concede the election to Hillary Clinton if he loses.
Campaigning for the first time since the third and final presidential debate — and in the aftermath of campaign manager Kellyanne Conway’s sweeping effort to clean up his comment — Trump teased a big announcement.
“Ladies and gentleman, I wanna make a major announcement today,” he told supporters in Delaware County, 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,” he proclaimed, pointing directly to his supporters as they cheered him on.
According to a transcript of his remarks, though, Trump could have gone a different route with his rhetorical jab. “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 when the results come in on election night, I will accept — without delay or hesitation — the concession speech of Hillary Rodham Clinton,” an alternate version of his transcript sent out to reporters said.
Being the showman that he is, Trump leveraged the all-eyes-on-me moment to rag on his Republican critics, who expressed outrage at Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that the election is rigged against him, as well as his admission that he may break precedent and refuse to concede the election.
Republican Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lindsey Graham immediately rebuked Trump on Wednesday. And they were joined Thursday by Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, as well as Maine Gov. Paul LePage.
McCain, who lost his 2008 White House bid to Barack Obama, cast a concession as “the American way.”
“I had a duty to concede, and I did so without reluctance,” he said in a lengthy statement. “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.”
Trump’s campaign spent the bulk of Thursday morning stressing that the GOP nominee has reverence for America’s democracy and that it’s Clinton who has contempt for its principles.
Outside of the debate setting Thursday, Trump expanded on his now-infamous comment to moderator Chris Wallace that he will say at the time whether he accepts the election results and will leave the country in suspense.
He framed it as a logical conclusion, suggesting that if the results are close, he has a right to impugn the results, and, he argued, Clinton is so corrupt that he has no choice but to maintain that right.
Trump also highlighted alleged revelations from the WikiLeaks trove of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s hacked emails, maintaining that Podesta was exposed claiming that illegal immigrants could vote as long as they have a driver’s license and told his supporters, “Don’t be naïve.”
And he referenced reports that the Democratic National Committee paid operatives to incite violence at his rallies. Clinton’s campaign and the DNC disavowed the revelations, which were featured in a secret sting video by conservative activist James O’Keefe.
“This is criminal behavior that violates centuries of tradition of peaceful, democratic elections. A campaign like Clinton’s that will incite violence, is truly a campaign that will do anything to win,” Trump said. “And the candidate like Crooked Hillary Clinton, who will lie to Congress, lie to the FBI, destroy 33,000 emails, put her office up for sale and put our confidential information in the reach of our enemies is a candidate who is truly capable of anything, including voter fraud.”
Trump said interim DNC Chairwoman Donna Brazile should resign for allegedly giving Clinton a heads-up on questions ahead of a CNN event and suggested that Clinton join her in resigning.
“Why shouldn’t Hillary Clinton resign from the race? She was given — think of it — she was given these questions,” Trump said. “She used these questions, studied the questions, got the perfect answer for the questions and never said that she did something that was totally wrong and inappropriate, hence the name Crooked Hillary.”
“Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt and dishonest person ever to seek the office of the presidency,” he continued. “So it’s in that context that I was asked a question about whether I would agree, in advance, to concede the results on election night, if for some reason we should lose, which — we’re not going to lose. And that was sort of an unprecedented question.”
Like his allies, Trump pointed to the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, remarking that if either candidate had agreed to concede at this point 16 years ago, they would have forfeited their right to challenge the results or call for a recount, though, given the circumstances, it’s unlikely either candidate would have received blowback. The Bush v. Gore Supreme Court case, he noted, would cease to exist.
“In effect, I’m being asked to waive centuries of legal precedent designed to protect the voters,” he said.
Trump said the subject of voter fraud came up during Wednesday’s debate and stressed that he only wants a fair election. “This is having nothing to do with me but having to do with the future of our country,” he said. “We have to have fairness.”
He continued suggesting deceased voters who are still on the rolls could influence the race if fraud is involved. “You understand where I’m coming from, right?” Trump asked his supporters.
Ultimately, though, Trump conceded that he would accept the results — but without waiving his rights to challenge “a questionable result.”
“America is a constitutional republic with a system of laws. These laws are triggered in the case of fraud or in the event of a recount, where it’s needed,” Trump 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, right? And always, I will follow and abide by all of the rules and traditions of all of the many candidates who have come before me. Always.”
Trump hailed his debate performance — “Seriously, the debate last night was amazing, and everybody said I won, including every single online poll” — but maintained that the bottom line is he will be victorious on Nov. 8.
“We’re gonna win. We’re gonna win,” he said. “We’re gonna win so badly. We’re gonna win so badly. Nov. 8, we’re going to win.”