Senior aides to President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger welcomes baby boy Tennessee lawmaker presents self-defense bill in 'honor' of Kyle Rittenhouse Five things to know about the New York AG's pursuit of Trump MORE are hitting back at Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiJoining Pelosi, Hoyer says lawmakers should be free to trade stocks Budowsky: To Dems: Run against the do-nothing GOP, Senate Momentum builds to prohibit lawmakers from trading stocks MORE (D-Calif.) after she suggested the president might not leave office if he were only narrowly defeated in the 2020 election.
Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne ConwayPennsylvania Republican David McCormick launches Senate campaign McCormick drawing support from Trump alumni ahead of Pennsylvania Senate bid Christie says Trump, Meadows should have warned him of positive COVID-19 test MORE told The Hill that Pelosi’s argument was “ironic and tone-deaf.”
Conway, who was Trump’s third and final campaign manager in 2016 and is now a top White House adviser, blasted “the inability of [Pelosi’s] party and her party’s failed nominee [Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe dangerous erosion of Democratic Party foundations The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat Left laughs off floated changes to 2024 ticket MORE] to accept the election results of 2016.”
Tim Murtaugh, director of communications for Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign, called Pelosi’s comments “ridiculous” and “warrantless fear-mongering to rile up her fringe base and the media.”
Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who is part of Trump's legal team, said that Democrats, including Pelosi, are “really getting to the point of being malicious. They're trying to suggest he's some kind of monster. They should stop.”
The ferocity of the response to Pelosi is standard political jousting but the feelings run deep on both sides.
Trump loyalists believe Democrats have been engaged in a long effort to delegitimize the president’s 2016 victory — especially through allegations of collusion with Russia.
Democrats, for their part, say there is ample evidence that Trump does not respect political norms.
Trump tweeted on Sunday evening that two years of his presidency had been “stolen” by the investigation led by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerAn unquestioning press promotes Rep. Adam Schiff's book based on Russia fiction Senate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG MORE.
Earlier, the president had retweeted a fervent supporter, Jerry Falwell Jr. — son of the famous, now-deceased evangelist — who asserted, “I now support reparations — Trump should have 2 yrs added to his 1st term as pay back for time stolen by this corrupt failed coup.”
Giuliani said that anyone who interpreted the tweets to mean that Trump would seriously consider extending his term “maybe should actually go for some form of counseling. That's close to insane.”
For some Democrats, however, the tweets, amplified the alarm bells first rung by Pelosi.
In a New York Times interview published Saturday, the Speaker told reporter Glenn Thrush that she was concerned about Trump refusing to accept a close defeat come November 2020.
“We have to inoculate against that, we have to be prepared for that,” Pelosi said.
Pelosi revealed she had harbored similar thoughts in the run-up to November’s midterm elections.
At that time, she recalled, she had thought, “If we win by four seats, by a thousand votes each, he’s not going to respect the election. … He would poison the public mind. He would challenge each of the races; he would say you can’t seat these people.”
Pelosi’s remarks sparked a near-frenzy among liberals on social media, including some high-profile commentators.
Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe tweeted, “It’s not alarmist to doubt that [Trump] won’t go quietly. It’d be alarming if people actually trusted him to respect any election result other than one in which his collusion with Putin and the metastasized Cambridge Analytica named him the winner.”
The special counsel’s report did not establish any coordination between Trump or the Trump campaign and Russia — a judgment that the president’s supporters hailed as a huge vindication.
Trump loyalists are angered by what they see as clear Democratic hypocrisy, abetted by the media. They recall liberal anguish in the fall of 2016 — when the broad consensus was that Clinton would win — over whether Trump would accept the election results that November.
The Trump camp believes that, when he won instead, the supposed concern about respecting election results vanished.
“Most never saw the 2016 presidential election results coming, and arrogantly asked me and others on the campaign numerous times, ‘Will HE accept the election results?’ ” Conway wrote in an email to The Hill.
“Answer: yes, he accepted the 2016 election results, and will accept his successful re-election results. When will THEY?” she continued. “You are asking the right question to the wrong people.”
It was Trump himself who fueled some of the concern in 2016, however.
He was asked at his final presidential debate with Clinton whether he would make a “commitment” that he would “absolutely accept the result of the election.”
“I will look at it at the time. I’m not looking at anything now,” Trump responded.
Pressed by moderator Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceWolf Blitzer will host an evening newscast on CNN's streaming service Audie Cornish hired by CNN, will host show and podcast on streaming service The five biggest media stories of 2021 MORE of Fox News as to whether he acknowledged the imperative for a peaceful transition of power, Trump responded: “What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I'll keep you in suspense, okay?”
Moments later, Clinton called Trump’s answers “horrifying.”
For the moment, there is some debate about exactly what Pelosi intended to convey in her remarks to The New York Times.
She appeared to be arguing that it was important for the 2020 Democratic standard-bearer to run a relatively moderate campaign, so as to maximize the chances of an emphatic victory over Trump.
But the Speaker is also being buffeted by the currents around impeachment. She is much less eager than some in her caucus to begin impeachment proceedings against the president, apparently out of concern that such a move could backfire.
Independent observers worry that public comments like hers are themselves dangerous, however.
“I don’t think this kind of rhetoric is helping,” said Grant Reeher, a Syracuse University political science professor. “If you think the Democrats’ chances are better with a more moderate centrist candidate, just say that. Instead, everything is about Trump.”
Meanwhile, Trump loyalists like Giuliani and Conway are trying to turn the Speaker’s remarks against her.
Giuliani said that he was “surprised that Speaker Pelosi would say that. I actually have respect for her. I expect that of AOC or Tlaib” — a reference to left-wing Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezLouisiana Rep. Troy Carter announces positive COVID-19 test Joining Pelosi, Hoyer says lawmakers should be free to trade stocks Schumer prepares for Senate floor showdown with Manchin, Sinema MORE (D-N.Y.) and Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibHouse Democrats inquire about possible census undercount in Detroit, other communities Michigan redistricting spat exposes competing interests in Democratic coalition Tlaib announces run in new Detroit district with Lawrence retiring MORE (D-Mich.).
Conway asserted that it “sounds like the Speaker is unimpressed by the 20+ Democrats running for President and thinks Trump and the Trump economy will be tough to beat next year.
“Why else call a preemptive process foul 18 months before Election Day?”
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.