Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump broke with democratic norms in Wednesday night’s presidential debate, proclaiming he wasn’t ready to say whether he would accept the results of the election next month. His refusal to do so ― “I’ll keep you in suspense,” he said ominously ― became the main takeaway from the debate for most major news organizations.
On Thursday morning, his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, tried to argue that Trump merely wanted to keep the door open to a recount somewhere in the event of a razor-thin ballot count, a la the Florida mess during the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore.
“If he’s losing by a couple points somewhere, or a couple of votes somewhere, perhaps he’ll look at it then,” Conway said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “That’s probably what he meant.”
Actually, that’s not what Trump has been saying at all.
For weeks now, Trump has been proclaiming in front of thousands of people that the election is “rigged” against him. He has warned of widespread voter fraud, which there is no evidence exists, and claimed there is a media conspiracy designed to undermine his candidacy. He has said that the only way he could lose a state like Pennsylvania is if his opponents are “cheating.”
In other words, Trump is not talking about a stray hanging chad or two, as Conway would have you believe. The Republican nominee for president is claiming that our election system is fundamentally untrustworthy and could be manipulated to deny him the White House.
That’s why The Associated Press, in a straight news story, is comfortable saying Trump “threaten[s] to upend a fundamental pillar of democracy” with his statements.
As for the Florida comparison made by Conway and other Trump surrogates, HuffPost’s Nick Baumann explains why the analogy doesn’t hold. It’s within a candidate’s rights to demand a recount in an extraordinarily tight election. What Trump is doing is casting doubt on the election results before most voters have gotten anywhere near a ballot. Even many Republican officials find it offensive.
There’s been plenty of dissonance between Trump and his own surrogates on this front. Earlier this week, his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, said their ticket would “absolutely accept the result of the election,” undercutting Trump’s talk of rigging. And even Conway herself has said she doesn’t believe there is widespread voter fraud, as her boss constantly suggests. “I do not believe that,” she said just Wednesday morning in an interview with MSNBC.