One of the leading GOP Senate critics of Donald Trump said today that it was “incredibly selfish” of the Republican nominee to say during Wednesday’s debate that he might not concede the election if he loses.
The feud between Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Trump goes back several months as the senator said he needed time to decide if he was going to endorse the party’s nominee or not.
The Washington Post reported on tension at a July meeting between Trump and GOP senators at which Flake introduced himself as “the other senator from Arizona — the one who didn’t get captured — and I want to talk to you about statements like that.” Trump reportedly threatened to start publicly attacking the senator, while Flake urged Trump to stop attacking Mexicans. When Trump declared that Flake would lose this year, the senator noted that he’s not up for re-election.
Flake had one Twitter comment during the final debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton: “@realDonaldTrump saying that he might not accept election results is beyond the pale.”
At a rally in Delaware, Ohio, today, Trump told supporters he had “a major announcement”: “I would like to promise and pledge to all of my voters and supporters, and to all of the people of the United States that I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election — if I win.”
“If Al Gore or George Bush had agreed three weeks before the election to concede the results, and waived their right to a legal challenge or a recount, then there would be no Supreme Court case and no Gore — Gore v. Bush or Bush v. Gore, and there have been numerous other cases. In effect, I’m being asked to waive centuries of legal precedent designed to protect the voters,” Trump said.
Flake told MSNBC today that he’d “hoped” to endorse Trump at some point but “he lost me, frankly, at ‘Mexican rapist’ way back when.” That was when Trump announced his candidacy in June 2015.
“But I hoped that he would change and realize that he’s a major party candidate and that he would change. But he hasn’t. In fact, it’s just gotten worse. I cannot overstate how important this is to deny that you may accept the election results. It’s just unfathomable that you could do that,” Flake said.
Flake said he didn’t count Trump’s rally comments as walking back his debate statements.
“This is not new, that he’s had these feelings before,” he said, referring to previous statements Trump has made about the election being rigged. “It’s not just disturbing in terms of what democracy means and peaceful transfer of power, but it’s an incredibly selfish thing to do as well. For those down-ballot candidates on the Republican side who are counting on a big turnout to tell your voters, your supporters that the election is rigged and that therefore their votes may not anything just drives down turnout and that’s just – like I said, a very selfish thing to do.”
Asked if Trump made it harder for Republicans to hold on to control of the Senate, Flake said “he certainly didn’t make it easier.”
“And I hope that Republicans see through it and see, even more, the importance if he’s not going to make it to the White House that we have the checks and balances that we need with divided government,” he added. “And so I hope that it drives out turnout, and I think that’s the responsibility of other elected officials to talk about how these elections work, they aren’t rigged. They are run by the states and thousands of volunteers, both Democrat and Republican alike in a nonpartisan way and I think the more of us that come out and reassure the voters of that, the better off we all are.”
Flake’s home state is now in play for Democrats, with Clinton surrogates including first lady Michelle Obama hitting Arizona this week. Clinton was up 5 points in the latest Arizona Republic poll.
The senior senator in the state, John McCain (R-Ariz.), is the only one up for re-election this year.
“I didn’t like the outcome of the 2008 election. But I had a duty to concede, and I did so without reluctance,” McCain said in a statement. “A concession isn’t just an exercise in graciousness. It is an act of respect for the will of the American people, a respect that is every American leader’s first responsibility. Whatever our differences we owe each other that respect, which we express by defending the democratic values and practices that protect us all.”