McCain Blasts Trump for Refusing to Say He'll Accept Election Results

Arizona Republican was the GOP presidential nominee in 2008

Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, said a smooth transfer of power after an election is “not just the Republican way or the Democratic way. It’s the American way.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Arizona Sen. John McCain blasted Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s assertion that he might not accept the election results, implying that not doing so is disrespectful to the American people.

McCain invoked his own experience as the GOP presidential candidate in 2008, when he lost to Sen. Barack Obama.

“There have been irregularities in our elections, sometimes even fraud, but never to an extent that it affected the outcome,” McCain said in a statement issued Thursday. “We should all be proud of that, and respect the decision of the majority even when we disagree with it. Especially when we disagree with it.”

“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. “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.”

[Consequences of Trump Campaign's Performance Incite GOP Frustration]

New Hampshire GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte also said Thursday that Trump “needs to accept the outcome” of the election. Both Ayotte and McCain are in competitive re-election races. The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rates the New Hampshire Senate race a Tossup, while the Arizona Senate race is rated as Republican Favored.

The lawmakers were reacting to Trump's comments during the final presidential debate in Las Vegas Wednesday night when he said he would wait to decide whether he would accept the election results. 

“I'll keep you in suspense,” Trump said.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton called his remarks “horrifying,” and said, “This is not the way our democracy works.”

[What We Learned From Wednesday's Debate]

Trump’s comments drew the ire of Democrats and other Republicans who have been critical of the nominee in the past, such as South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham. Critics said his statements endangered the peaceful transfer of power that occurs after elections.

Top GOP leaders in Congress such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan have not weighed in on Trump’s comments following the debate. Last weekend, a Ryan spokeswoman said in a statement that the speaker was "fully confident" the election would be carried out fairly.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi both chided GOP leaders for not condemning Trump's remarks.

“Silence is complicity.  Evasion is unacceptable,” Pelosi said in a Thursday statement. “Speaker Ryan and Sen. McConnell must make it unequivocally clear that they reject Trump's horrifying attack on our elections.”

Some Trump backers defended the remarks by pointing to the 2000 presidential election recount. A court case between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush over a recount in Florida eventually went up to the Supreme Court, which effectively stopped the recount, and Bush was declared the winner.

[Sessions: Trump Will Use 'Legal Rights Like Al Gore']

“[Trump] is determined that he’s going to be treated fairly, and if he’s not treated fairly he’ll use legal rights like Al Gore did in the 2000 election,” Alabama GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions told Roll Call in the spin room after the debate.

The 2000 situation is not exactly analogous to Trump's statements, since the issue surrounded an automatic recount in one state. Trump has said in recent weeks that the election is “rigged” and widespread voter fraud will skew the results.

“I don’t know who’s going to win the presidential election,” McCain concluded in his statement. “I do know that in every previous election, the loser congratulates the winner and calls them, ‘My president.’ That’s not just the Republican way or the Democratic way. It’s the American way.”

“This election must not be any different,” he said.

Niels Lesniewski and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

Contact Bowman at bridgetbowman@rollcall.com and follow her on Twitter @bridgetbhc.

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