U.S. President Donald Trump would not say during his first debate with former Vice President Joe Biden Tuesday if he will urge his supporters to stay calm in the event of a contested election in November.
Asked by moderator Chris Wallace, Trump said he is urging people to be poll watchers to stop fraudulent activity both in polling places and with mail-in ballots, which Trump has repeatedly said will be a “disaster.”
“I hope it’s going to be a fair election. If it’s a fair election, I am 100 per cent on board,” Trump said. “But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that.”
“What does that mean?” Wallace asked. “Does that mean you’re going to urge your people to take to the streets?”
“It means you have a fraudulent election,” Trump replied.
“These people aren’t equipped to handle it, number one. Number two, they cheat,” he continued.
Biden, when asked the same question, promised to not declare victory until the election results are independently certified.
“Here’s the deal: we count the ballots,” he said. “Some of these ballots in some states can’t even be opened until Election Day. And if there’s thousands of ballots it’s going to take time to do it.”
Trump also said he’s counting on the Supreme Court to settle any dispute in the final electoral count. By that time, the court will likely include Trump’s third nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, creating an unbreakable conservative majority if the Republican-led Senate votes to confirm her before Nov. 3.
“I’m counting on them to look at the ballots, definitely,” he said. “I hope we don’t need them in terms of the election itself, but for the ballots I think so.”
Trump has already refused to confirm whether he’ll accept a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election.
For months, the president, Attorney General Bill Barr and other fellow Republicans have argued that mail-in ballots — which is being expanded or introduced in nearly every state due to the novel coronavirus pandemic — will lead to widespread fraud, while providing little concrete evidence. They have voiced support for solicited absentee ballots, which Trump himself has used to vote.
While Trump tried to point to examples of election fraud during the debate, those were full of mischaracterizations. A story about a group of Trump’s so-called poll watchers being turned away from an office in Philadelphia, for example, was due to many reasons beyond hiding fraud, local media has pointed out.
Biden pointed out during the debate that members of the military have been voting by mail since the Civil War, and refuted Trump and Republicans’ arguments that mail-in voting will lead to widespread fraud.
“Why is it for them somehow not fraudulent,” Biden asked, speaking of military members. “It’s the same process. It’s honest.”
Biden closed by promising that not only would he accept the results if he loses, but so would Trump.
“Once the winner is declared and all the ballots are counted, all the votes are counted, that’ll be the end of it,” he said.
“If we get the votes, he’s going to go. He can’t stay in power. It won’t happen. So vote,” he said earlier, directly addressing the camera.