President Trump declined for a second straight day to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he lost the election, repeating baseless assertions that the voting would be a “big scam,” even as leading Republicans scrambled to assure the public that their party would respect the Constitution.
“We want to make sure that the election is honest, and I’m not sure that it can be,” Mr. Trump told reporters on Thursday before leaving the White House for North Carolina.
The president doubled down on his stance just hours after prominent Republicans made it clear that they were committed to the orderly transfer of power, without directly rebuking him. “The winner of the November 3rd election will be inaugurated on January 20th,” Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, wrote on Twitter early Thursday. “There will be an orderly transition just as there has been every four years since 1792.”
Democrats were far less restrained, comparing Mr. Trump’s comments to those of an authoritarian leader and warning Americans to take his stance seriously.
“You are not in North Korea; you are not in Turkey; you are not in Russia, Mr. President, and by the way, you are not in Saudi Arabia,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “You are in the United States of America. It is a democracy, so why don’t you just try for a moment to honor your oath of office to the Constitution of the United States?”
Chris Edelson, an American University professor who has studied the expansion of presidential power during national emergencies, said Mr. Trump’s comments represented a unique threat to a central pillar of democracy. “It’s impossible to underscore how absolutely extraordinary this situation is — there are really no precedents in our country,” he said. “This is a president who has threatened to jail his political opponents. Now he is suggesting he would not respect the results of an election. These are serious warning signs.”
Douglas Brinkley, the presidential historian, said, “This may be the most damaging thing he has ever done to American democracy.”…
Ben Ginsberg, a longtime Republican elections lawyer who retired last month, said Republican senators — even those who have sought to distance themselves from Mr. Trump — are limited in how much they can criticize a president who remains overwhelmingly popular with the party’s base.
His leverage over the rank and file is even greater as he prepares to announce a Supreme Court nominee nearly all of them will support, Mr. Ginsberg said.
“The president’s comments about the peaceful transfer of power, combined with his need for the ninth justice to carry out his election plans, puts Republican senators on the horns of a dilemma,” Mr. Ginsberg said….
Still, the debate exposed a divide in the party that the flurry of G.O.P. statements — and attacks on Democrats — could not obscure, and Mr. Trump’s comments caused deep uneasiness among some stalwarts of the besieged Republican establishment.
“This isn’t the typical Trump outrage that comes and goes,” said Brendan Buck, a former top adviser to House Speaker Paul Ryan, who stepped down in 2019. “Senators are stating their principle here because it’s obvious to everyone that he is, in fact, planning to dispute the results if he loses, no matter how lopsided. Calling him names isn’t going to stop him, but they are trying to save themselves some trouble later by making clear they’re not going to flirt with crazy conspiracies that make a mockery of our democracy.”