How Trump voters feel about his refusal to commit to transferring power
By Jeremy W. Peters and Hank Stephenson
Alan Knight can list the reasons he won’t trust the results of the Nov. 3 election if President Donald Trump loses.
First, almost everyone he knows is supporting the president. “Just from everything I see around me, it’s going to be a landslide,” the 68-year-old Republican from Sahuarita, Arizona, said. Knight also believes Democrats will do whatever they can to win — even if it means they have to “pull votes out of ditches” and “cheat in every possible way,” he said.
So, as he sees it, Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer to power to Democrats at this point makes sense, even if it was dismissed by other Republican leaders and condemned as dangerous by Democrats.
“He’s going to wait and see whether it was an honest election before handing over power,” Knight said.
Trump supporters saying they have Trump’s back is not a surprise at this point in the Trump era. But recent interviews with Republican voters in several battleground states show just how much Trump’s unrelenting campaign to shake trust in voting has compounded the deep misgivings his supporters have about the integrity of the process. While some were troubled by the idea that Trump might refuse to leave if he was decisively defeated, many simply do not believe that he could, or will, lose fair and square.
Polls now show Trump behind in most battleground states and nationally. If he does come up short in November, these voters say he would be justified in questioning whether Democrats manipulated the outcome and whether the results and state-by-state race calls of news organizations were wrong.
Sylvia Rhodes Blakey, 73, of Green Valley, Arizona, was categorical: The only way Trump will lose is if the Democrats rig the election in favor of former Vice President Joe Biden, she said.
“There’s going to be massive attempts at fraud,” Blakey said. “There are so many illegals that have the names of dead people, and they’re voting on those ballots.”
Even though there is no evidence of widespread fraud, the allegation came up repeatedly among Republicans as a reason for Trump not to commit to handing over power.
Jim Thienel, 73, of Waterford, Michigan, said that in his view, fraud was inevitable and Trump was simply refusing to accept any election tainted by it.
“I think what Trump is really saying is that if the election is filled with fraud, which I believe it’s going to be, do you walk out on your role as the president of the United States simply because the Democrats cheated?” said Thienel, who runs an appliance repair shop.
It is impossible to tell whether Trump would follow through on his threats not to leave willingly, or whether this is another example of the bluster and hyperbole he has always employed to generate controversy and enrage many on the left.
But his refusal to make a plain-spoken commitment to a transfer of power, as other American leaders have done, stands out in the series of unprecedented developments rippling through this election season. Already, tens of millions of people will be casting ballots by mail for the first time, putting pressure on that method of voting and processing. The vote count is likely to continue in some key states after Nov. 3. And there are the persistent, unfounded claims of a president who insists that mail-in ballots will be manipulated by his political opponents.
Election experts and campaign strategists warn that these unique circumstances have made Republicans more skeptical than ever about the legitimacy of the electoral process, which could lead to considerable political instability.
“The main effect President Trump has had is to make Republicans very skeptical about mail voting,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster who has been critical of the president. According to a poll conducted this month by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, about twice as many Democrats plan to cast their ballot by mail than Republicans, 52% compared with 28%.
If those mail votes take time to count, and eventually swing the election to Biden, Trump and the GOP’s small army of lawyers could try to claim fraud.
Trump has already declared that the results of the election “may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED,” as he argued in a tweet. And on Monday he continued to claim, without offering any evidence, that ballot counting was going awry. “Many things are already going very wrong!” he wrote on Twitter.
In interviews, many Trump supporters — who tended to be suspicious about election tampering and supportive of Republican efforts to pass laws limiting access to voting early — didn’t want Trump to promise to give up power in the face of a potentially drawn-out and messy vote count.
Sherry Livering, 58, a homemaker from Lebanon, Pennsylvania, who plans to vote for Trump, said she found the idea of waiting several days or even weeks to identify a winner unacceptable. “We have an Election Day,” she said. “I don’t want to wait two weeks, that’s ridiculous.”
Rick Slowicki, 52, who owns a courier service in Philadelphia, said Trump’s comments about remaining in office weren’t nearly as troubling to him as the angry opposition he envisioned if the president wins a second term.
“I think the country is more volatile if he wins legitimately. That’s my bigger concern,” he said. “Republicans aren’t the ones known to be strong protesters. Before he even stepped into the presidency, the protests and the rioting had begun. And it’s just continued.”
And like many Trump supporters, Slowicki doesn’t take Trump literally word for word.
“He says things to trigger people. But if he clearly loses, I don’t support him refusing to leave if he does follow through on those words,” he said.
Some Trump supporters also said while they did not entirely agree with the president’s recent comments, they understood why he would not declare his intentions to leave office given how many unknown variables are involved with holding a presidential election in the middle of a pandemic.
Lance Dechant, 55, of Holmen, Wisconsin, a village in the western part of the state, said the question of whether Trump should leave office willingly wasn’t necessarily so straightforward. “Yes and no. Yes, if the outcome of the election’s clear. If it’s in doubt, I can understand his point,” said Dechant, an employee of the federal government who described himself as an independent and said he would be voting for Trump.
“I mean, it could be weeks before you actually know what the vote total was,” he added. “If you’ve got five or six states where, after the election it’s still up in the air, why would he leave office?”
Mark Warner, 55, an automotive engineer from Lake Orion, Michigan, said he had many concerns about voting by mail. “I’ve gotten at least five applications for absentee ballots mailed to me. It’s insanity. If there’s an opportunity for people who want to commit fraud, they’re going to do it,” he said.
Still, he doesn’t put much stock in the president’s reluctance to commit to a peaceful transition of power. “At the end of the day, if he loses the election, the moving vehicles will be there on Jan. 20,” he said, “and he’ll be gone.”