At a debate with Biden on Tuesday night, Trump would not commit to accepting the election result, reasserting unfounded complaints that an increase in mail-in ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic would lead to widespread voting fraud.
Biden urged Americans to vote for him in large numbers to eliminate any possibility of the Republican Trump staying in the White House if he lost the election.
“The president will step down. The American people will not stand for it. No agency would stand for that happening,” Biden said at a campaign stop in Alliance, Ohio, one of the battleground states in the Nov.3 election.
Trump, who won a four-year term in 2016, was asked at the debate in Cleveland whether he would accept the 2020 result and said:
“If I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that,” he said. “This is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen.”
The president has now said several times that he would not necessarily accept the election result.
Biden has held a modest but steady lead in national voter surveys for months although opinion polls in the battleground states that traditionally decide elections show a closer contest.
The bad-tempered debate, marked by Trump’s constant interjections and Biden’s angry rejoinders, appeared unlikely to significantly alter the campaign’s dynamics.
The Democrat on Wednesday also denounced a right-wing group that Trump mentioned in the debate, saying: “My message to the Proud Boys and every other white supremacist group is: cease and desist.”
“The American people will decide who the next president is. Period,” Biden added.
‘STAND BACK AND STAND BY’
Trump had called on the “Proud Boys” to “stand back and stand by” when asked at the debate to repudiate white supremacists, raising concerns that he was encouraging the group to act as freelance poll monitors.
The Proud Boys describes itself as a club of “Western chauvinists” but has been categorized as a hate group by the nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center.
White House officials played down Trump’s comment about the all-male Proud Boys, which has been involved in counter-protests to demonstrations about race and policing in Portland, Oregon, in recent weeks. Its members often come armed.
“The president has condemned white supremacy countless times,” Alyssa Farah, the White House communications director, told Fox News on Wednesday. “I don’t think that there is anything to clarify. He told them to stand back … He’s leading. He doesn’t need any sort of vigilantism.”
More than 1.6 million voters in 15 states have cast early ballots ahead of Election Day, according to the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida.
Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns and his handling of the pandemic, which has killed more than 200,000 Americans, also faced scrutiny on the debate stage.
The debate likely attracted a much smaller audience than the record set four years ago, according to preliminary ratings data released on Wednesday. An estimated 28.7 million people tuned in on broadcast networks ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, below the roughly 45 million viewers who watched Trump debate former first lady Hillary Clinton on those channels in 2016.
Data from additional networks was due to be released later on Wednesday.
The group that manages U.S. presidential election debates said on Wednesday it will take steps to “ensure a more orderly discussion” after the fractious first bout, in which moderator Chris Wallace often struggled to end the fierce bickering.
“Last night’s debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues,” the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) said in a statement. “The CPD will be carefully considering the changes that it will adopt and will announce those measures shortly.”
Biden, 77, set off on Wednesday on a train for a campaign tour through western Ohio and eastern Pennsylvania, both “Rust Belt” battleground states. The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll of Pennsylvania gave Biden a slight advantage there.
Trump, 74, will visit Minnesota – one of the few states his campaign is targeting that voted Democratic in 2016 – with a fundraiser in the afternoon before a rally in Duluth.
Money cascaded into Biden’s campaign and the Democratic Party on the heels of the debate. The Biden campaign had its best single hour of fundraising, pulling in $3.8 million, said deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield. ActBlue, the leading Democratic fundraising website, processed more than $36 million in the 16 hours after the start of the debate, according to the site’s live tracker.