Two weeks ago, Donald Trump became the first American president to ever publicly resist the idea of a peaceful transfer of power between administrations. The Republican not only refused to commit to a peaceful post-election process, he added that if officials would simply "get rid of the ballots," there would be "a continuation" of his hold on power.
The president proceeded to echo the position, both at a campaign rally and from the White House podium. He went so far as to tell reporters that the United States' electoral system is "rigged," which Trump apparently sees as a credible justification for rejecting results he doesn't like.
At this week's debate, moderator Susan Page reminded Vice President Mike Pence that the president has repeatedly refused to commit to a peaceful, post-election transfer of power, and asked what he'd do if Trump refuses to accept the election results.
Pence replied with a long, meandering answer, which included some deeply weird, conspiratorial nonsense -- the vice president falsely accused the FBI of spying on the Trump campaign four years ago, somehow tying this to Hillary Clinton -- before falsely accusing Congress of having impeached the president "over a phone call." He added:
"So let me just say, I think we're gonna win this election. President Trump and I are fighting every day in courthouses to prevent Joe Biden and Kamala Harris from changing the rules and creating this universal mail-in voting, they'll create a massive opportunity for voter fraud."
To the extent that reality still has any meaning, none of this made any sense, but just as importantly, at no point did Pence ever get around to saying that he and the president would, in fact, honor a peaceful transition of power in the event of an electoral defeat.
Last night, Donald Trump described this as the vice president's "best answer" of the debate. He proceeded to scoff aloud at the very idea of "a peaceful transition to power."
And with that, the president's closing message is taking shape. On Monday, Trump implored the public not to fear a viral outbreak that's claimed the lives of 212,000 Americans; and on Tuesday, he told voters that if they're looking for economic relief during a downturn, they'll have to wait until after the election.
On Wednesday, Trump falsely accused his political rivals of made-up "crimes" -- adding soon after that he expects his Justice Department to prosecute his opponents before the election -- and on Thursday, the president sneered at the idea that he should respect election results he doesn't like, which is a line he's now repeated several times over two weeks.
Election Day is 25 days away.