Donald Trump on Monday lashed out at Republican leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, who have pushed back against the GOP nominee’s message that the election is being rigged against him.
“Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day. Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naive!” Trump tweeted.
He followed up with a unity message for the deeply fractured party, saying, “We have all got to come together and win this election. We can’t have four more years of Obama (or worse!).”
But while Trump stuck to his claim that the fix will be in on Election Day, even some of his own supporters found it difficult to back the real estate billionaire’s assertions. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), a Trump supporter, could offer only a tepid defense of his party’s nominee during a Monday morning interview on Don Imus’ radio show. In the exchange, first reported by CNN, King responded to a question about Trump’s allegations of a rigged election by saying, “Is it legally rigged? No it’s not. Whoever wins, wins.”
But King continued that while Trump was wrong to say that the election would be stolen from him by illegal means, he did see an array of forces working to stop the former reality TV star from ascending to the White House.
“I do think there’s a lot to what he’s saying, whether it’s conscious or not, of having people in the so-called establishment, whatever that is, the big money people, the media, the political leaders, they are petrified of the thought of Trump being elected,” King said. “So they consciously and unconsciously just do everything they can.”
Another congressman, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), offered a similarly reserved defense of Trump in an interview on Monday morning, telling CNN’s Chris Cuomo that the GOP nominee’s claims of a rigged election are “partially unsubstantiated.” King said that suggestions of a grand conspiracy to keep Trump out of the White House are overblown, but he added that it would require only a handful of votes to possibly swing the election. As evidence, he pointed to the famously close race in Florida in 2000.
“Chris, I don’t want to say anything on this program that delegitimizes the elections because I don’t want the American people to lose faith in our process. If we do, this entire constitutional republic could come tumbling down,” the Iowa lawmaker said. “We have a mainstream media that there’s plenty of evidence to point to that they have been tilted in favor of Hillary Clinton, by and large. We have evidence out there that illegals have been voting by the hundreds, if not the thousands. It only took 537 in Florida. Those are things that do concern me.” George W. Bush carried Florida over Al Gore by 537 votes in 2000.
Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway contended that Trump will accept the outcome of the election — but only if the results are clear and there are no irregularities or voter fraud. Asked why her candidate continues to claim the election is rigged, Conway pointed to media coverage that she said skews negatively toward Trump.
“If you’re Donald Trump and you feel like every single day you are facing lies and distortions and an avalanche of negative coverage or — I would say put differently — incomplete coverage as if there’s only one person running for president and not two, then the frustration mounts, and you wonder what could happen if people really wanted to stop you,” she told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
And Ohio’s Republican secretary of state, who will oversee next month’s election in the crucial Midwestern swing state, took the GOP criticism of Trump a step further, labeling the rhetoric on election rigging from his party’s nominee “irresponsible.” Jon Husted, speaking on CNN, offered a guarantee to Trump and any of his supporters worried about Election Day that “I am in charge of elections in Ohio, and they’re not going to be rigged. I’ll make sure of that.”
“The idea of widespread voter fraud would require some systemic problem in our system, and so if there’s a systemic problem, please identify it. Don’t just make an allegation on Twitter. Tell me, tell the secretaries of state around the country what the problem is so that we can fix it,” Husted said.
He added that cases of voter fraud do occur, but that they are “rare” and are often caught before the vote in question is even tabulated. Husted said the election system is “the only place you can find Democrats and Republicans working cooperatively together.”
Trump has amped up his claims of a rigged election after the release of a 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape in which the billionaire cavalierly talks about being able to get away with sexual assault and a subsequent march of women who have accused him of groping them.
The nominee has pushed back forcefully, promising to offer evidence to refute his female accusers, while accusing the media of blindly giving a megaphone to the women and trying to fix the election against him.
On Monday, Trump expressed disbelief that the accusers are being viewed as credible and pushed the idea that Vice President Joe Biden is guilty of being a groper.
“Can’t believe these totally phoney [sic] stories, 100% made up by women (many already proven false) and pushed big time by press, have impact!” Trump tweeted.
He followed up with a retweet from New York radio host Mark Simone, who tweeted out a video with the message, “Watch Joe Biden’s Long History Of Grabbing, Kissing and Groping Women Who Are Cringing.”
The video is a compilation of images of Biden offering lingering hugs and tender gestures to Hillary Clinton and female family members during the Senate ceremonial swearing-in. Biden, long an advocate of sexual assault prevention, has called Trump’s remarks on the “Access Hollywood” tape “sexual assault.”
Biden’s office declined to comment.
Continuing his spree on Monday morning, Trump retweeted Infowars editor-at-large Paul Joseph Watson, who had promoted a Daily Caller article about former “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos, with Watson writing, “Trump accuser praised him in an email as recently as April! This is all yet another hoax.”
Trump has offered up almost equal scorn for his female accusers, the media, and for Ryan, with whom he’s been tangling ever since the House speaker abandoned him early last week. Ryan’s office over the weekend appeared to further undermine Trump’s message that the election is being engineered in Clinton’s favor, coming out with a statement on Saturday saying Ryan is “fully confident” in the election system.
“Our democracy relies on confidence in election results, and the speaker is fully confident the states will carry out this election with integrity,” said Ryan spokesperson AshLee Strong.
Trump continued to trash Ryan over the weekend, as the nominee geared up for a Monday evening rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The billionaire fired off a series of tweets Sunday afternoon and evening, some of which criticized Ryan.
“The Democrats have a corrupt political machine pushing crooked Hillary Clinton. We have Paul Ryan, always fighting the Republican nominee!” he messaged, following up with, “Paul Ryan, a man who doesn’t know how to win (including failed run four years ago), must start focusing on the budget, military, vets etc.”
And he accused Ryan of doing nothing to ensure Clinton doesn’t win next month. “Wow, interview released by Wikileakes shows ‘quid pro quo’ in Crooked Hillary e-mail probe.Such a dishonest person – & Paul Ryan does zilch!”
But even as Trump tussles with Republicans who are not willing to push his election rigging message, the nominee’s own running mate has not always seemed in sync.
“We will absolutely accept the result of the election,” Mike Pence said Sunday during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” adding that the GOP ticket will “accept the will of the American people.”
But during a rally on Monday, Pence appeared more on message. “I have no doubt the national media is trying to rig this election with their biased coverage in Hillary Clinton’s favor,” Pence said in Ohio.
He also said he was concerned about voter fraud, calling on the attendees to volunteer at local polling places on Election Day to “respectfully” ensure no fraud takes place.
“Voter fraud cannot be tolerated by anyone in this nation,” the Indiana governor said.
Sarah Wheaton and Matthew Nussbaum contributed to this report.
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