Hours after Mr. Trump’s assertions, Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, expressed alarm over the comments on Twitter. “Fundamental to democracy is the peaceful transition of power; without that, there is Belarus,” Mr. Romney wrote. “Any suggestion that a president might not respect this Constitutional guarantee is both unthinkable and unacceptable.”
Mr. Trump’s remarks are a continuation of a long series. During an interview with Fox News in July, Mr. Trump similarly demurred when pressed by the network’s anchor, Chris Wallace, to “give a direct answer” about whether he would accept the election results regardless of the outcome.
“I have to see,” Mr. Trump said. “No, I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no, and I didn’t last time, either,” he added, referring to his similar equivocation before the 2016 election, which he warned might be stolen from him.
Even after his election that year, Mr. Trump falsely insisted that he had lost the popular vote only because millions of immigrants ineligible to vote had cast ballots for his opponent, Hillary Clinton.
In this campaign, Mr. Trump has primed his supporters to believe his defeat is possible only through what he has called a “rigged” or “stolen” election. “The only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election,” Mr. Trump said last month during the Republican National Convention.
Mr. Trump has also long joked about retaining power beyond legal limits, making frequent mention of serving beyond January 2025, when the Constitution — which limits presidents to two terms — requires that he leave office.
In 2018, after China’s Communist Party announced the end of a two-term limit for its presidency, Mr. Trump said at a closed-door fund-raiser that China’s authoritarian leader, Xi Jinping, would be “president for life.”