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Pressed on a peaceful transition, Trump keeps using the word 'but'

Every time Donald Trump says he'll honor a peaceful transition of power in the event of a defeat, he adds an important word: "But."
President Donald J. Trump
President Donald J. Trump walks to board Marine One and depart from the South Lawn at the White House on Feb 7, 2020.Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Imagesfile

Even jaded observers were taken aback last week when Donald Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power in the event of an election defeat. The president added that if officials would simply "get rid of the ballots," there would be "a continuation" of his hold on power.

A day later, the Republican campaigned in Virginia, where he reiterated his position.

"I want a smooth, beautiful transition, but they don't add the other part: But it's got to be an honest vote.... We do want a very friendly transition. But we don't want to be cheated.... We're not going to stand for it. We're not going to stand for it."

And then over the weekend, he echoed the line from a White House podium.

"We all believe in transition. We believe not only in transition, but a very friendly. But when the ballots and when the system is rigged, which it is; obviously it is."

The day after the president's initial comments, delivered on Thursday, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) told reporters the president "says crazy stuff." At first blush, that's an easy sentiment to agree with.

But therein lies the rub: Trump clearly doesn't believe any of this is "crazy." He balked at the idea of peaceful transfer of power, then he did it again, and then he did it again. This may have been an off-the-cuff comment when the president first uttered it, but it's since become the official White House position.

Trump is the first president in American history to ever publicly resist the idea of a peaceful transfer of power, and by all appearances, he couldn't care less.

Indeed, one of the most important words in the Republican's rhetoric on this is "but": he'll honor the results, "but" only if he thinks the elections are fair. Trump will respect the outcome, "but" only if he considers the process honest. The president will abide by voters' decision, "but" not if he can concoct baseless ideas about his opponents cheating. He wants a smooth process, "but" the system is rigged.

Trump can't support or substantiate any of his ridiculous attempts to undermine public confidence in the results. The Republican can, however, use these ludicrous theories to justify rejecting election results he doesn't like, consequences be damned.