GOP braces for Trump loss, roiled by refusal to accept election results
Democrats expressed dismay that the Republican nominee and his backers were advancing the idea of widespread voter fraud.
"He is just trying to find an excuse for the fact that he's going to lose, and perhaps the fact that he's going to lose to the first woman president stings a little sharper than it might otherwise," said Jennifer Palmieri, the Clinton campaign's communications director.
Prominent Republican senators in tough reelection bids distanced themselves from Trump's posture. "Donald Trump needs to accept the outcome," Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said in a statement.
McCain, Ariz., who lost to Obama eight years ago, said in a statement: "I didn't like the outcome of the 2008 election. But I had a duty to concede. A concession isn't just an act of graciousness. It is an act of respect for the will of the American people."
As of Thursday afternoon, neither House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., nor Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had offered any comment, underscoring the party's unease with its own nominee and the political dangers of tangling with him.
Benjamin Ginsberg, a lawyer at Jones Day who has been national counsel for several Republican presidential campaigns, said Trump's stance puts the party in "quite a difficult position."
"There will be Republican candidates who are winning by narrow margins and losing by narrow margins," Ginsberg said. "The party as a whole has a collective interest in having the results upheld."
Republican pollster Whit Ayres said that at the Las Vegas debate, Trump "blew his last chance to turn it around." But, he said, "I am not convinced that the rest of the party will have as bad a night [on Election Day] as Donald Trump is going to have, because the Trump brand is so distinct from the Republican brand."
Escalating the Republican angst was Trump's rally Thursday in Delaware, Ohio, where he advanced conspiracies swirling around far-right websites about Clinton. He referred to reports that Democratic operatives with no direct connection to the Clinton campaign hired people to violently disrupt Trump events.
"This criminal behavior that violates centuries of tradition of peaceful democratic elections, a campaign like Clinton's that will incite violence is truly a campaign that will do anything to win," Trump said, going on to call Clinton "a candidate who is truly capable of anything, including voter fraud."
Trump also mentioned an email, which surfaced on WikiLeaks through an illegal hack that U.S. authorities blame on the Russian government, in which interim Democratic National Committee chairwoman Donna Brazile seemed to suggest to the Clinton team that she had knowledge of a question that would come up in a primary forum earlier this year. While Brazile has denied that CNN provided any questions in advance, Trump called her actions "cheating at the highest level."
Even as his party loses faith, Trump proclaimed that he was poised for victory.
"Bottom line, we're going to win," he told the boisterous Ohio crowd. "We're going to win. We're going to win so big. We're going to win so big."
Jenna Johnson in Delaware, Ohio; David Weigel in Charlotte; Krissah Thompson in Phoenix; and Juliet Eilperin, Jose A. DelReal and Karoun Demirjian in Washington contributed to this report.