WASHINGTON — In his first major public speech since bowing out of the presidential race, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Thursday that President Trump is trying to undermine the legitimacy of the upcoming election.
“Today the peaceful transition of power, the bedrock of American democracy, is being threatened like never before,” Sanders said at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
The speech came less than a day after Trump declined to commit to a peaceful transfer of power at a Wednesday press conference. Trump’s remarks sparked fierce criticism from Democrats, while a number of Republican senators noted — without naming the president — that a peaceful transfer of power is a bedrock principle of American government.
The Vermont senator and runner-up in this year’s Democratic primary was particularly critical of Trump’s repeated and unfounded criticism of mail-in balloting. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, voting by mail has grown exponentially more popular this year.
“This is not just an election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden,” Sanders said. “This is an election between Donald Trump and democracy — and democracy must win.”
Sanders cited several reports that conclude that there is no data to support the idea that mail-in balloting leads to fraud. He quoted Republican attorney Ben Ginsburg, an election law expert who was one of George W. Bush’s campaign lawyers during the 2000 Florida recount, who recently argued in the Washington Post that voter fraud is exceedingly rare.
“Let me repeat from one of the Republican Party’s leading experts on elections: ‘The truth is that after decades of looking for illegal voting, there’s no proof of widespread fraud. At most, there are isolated incidents — by both Democrats and Republicans. Elections are not rigged,’” said Sanders.
Sanders told the New York Times that his Thursday speech is the kickoff to a series of warnings to the public of a “nightmare scenario” in which Trump refuses to step down if he loses.
“There is nothing in our Constitution or in our laws that give Donald Trump the privilege of deciding whether or not he will step aside if he loses,” Sanders said in his speech. “In the United States the president does not determine who can or cannot vote and what ballots will be counted. That may be what his friend Putin does in Russia. It may be what is done in other authoritarian countries. But it is not and will not be done in America. This is a democracy.”
Wednesday wasn’t the first time Trump has indicated that he may not accept the election’s results. When asked in July if he would accept the results of the election, Trump told Fox News host Chris Wallace, “I have to see. Look … I have to see. No, I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no, and I didn’t last time either.”
“No matter how rich and powerful you may be, no matter how arrogant and narcissistic you may be, no matter how much you think you can get anything you want, let me make this clear to Donald Trump: Too many people have fought and died to defend American democracy,” Sanders said Thursday.
Sanders, a democratic socialist, also called on all Americans to put aside ideological and partisan differences when it comes to defending democracy.
“The American people, no matter what their political persuasion, must make it clear that American democracy will not be destroyed. Our country from its inception and through the sacrifices of millions has been a model to the world with regard to representative government.”
Cover thumbnail photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images
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