LAS VEGAS ― Shortly after Donald Trump refused to say he would accept the results of the election during Wednesday night’s debate, his top supporters presented a more conciliatory tune to reporters.
Sean Spicer, the communications director for the Republican National Committee, promised that the party would accept the outcome, even if its nominee didn’t.
“We expect to win this race, so it’s not going to be an issue, but regardless, we will accept the will of the people,” Spicer told reporters at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, after the final presidential debate Wednesday night.
Dr. Ben Carson, a top Trump ally, said the nominee would wait and see how the results look. But, he added, “if there is nothing that looks particularly obvious, he is going to accept it.”
Others supporting the GOP nominee also attempted to calm the waters, saying the idea that a post-election legal or political battle would ensue if their side ended up behind would only be in the case of a uniquely close result.
“I think, again, that his point is we want to ensure that the results are very fair, that the election process is not a rigged system and that we have certified and verified results,” said Sarah Huckabee, a top Trump campaign aide.
“I think it’s unlikely that we’ll have the kind of serious fraud in this election that would result in an Al Gore challenge to the election like we had in 2000. ... If there’s no real basis to file a serious challenge, then I would not support that, and I don’t think he would either,” added Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).
The comments from Spicer, Huckabee, Carson and Sessions showed a discomfort within not just the campaign, but the Republican Party at large over Trump’s stated defiance. During the debate, the nominee notably refused to say he would accept the election outcome, feeding the perception that the vote will somehow be rigged against him
“I will look at it at the time,” he said. “I’ll keep you in suspense.”
Hillary Clinton responded by calling his answer “horrifying.” And after the debate, her surrogates urged moderate Republicans to speak out against their party’s nominee for the good of the country.
“We have built an organization called Together for America that has leading Republicans involved in it and has independents and national security experts. We would certainly welcome support to heal the country,” campaign chairman John Podesta said. “That’s what she wants to do.”
With his electoral prospect dimming and Wednesday night’s debate doing little to change that, Trump seems likely to continue arguing that a loss for him may be illegitimate. He’s been making that case for weeks now, warning that the election may be “rigged” and encouraging his supporters to go monitor the polls in cities like Philadelphia and Chicago, raising fears from civil rights advocates of voter intimidation.
But spreading distrust and undermining the public’s faith in the election system has been too much even for some Republicans, who have spent years warning about voter fraud by traditionally Democratic constituencies. GOP election officials have pushed back against Trump and called his warnings “irresponsible.”
Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said that even if Trump does challenge the results, he isn’t too worried.
“The networks, on Election Night, they don’t take into consideration whether somebody like Donald Trump is being a poor sport and a sore loser,” he said. “They make the projections based on the actual vote totals.”
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