Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested Monday that he fears the general election "is going to be rigged" — an unprecedented assertion by a modern presidential candidate.
Trump's extraordinary claim — one he did not back up with any immediate evidence — would, if it became more than just an offhand comment, seem to threaten the tradition of peacefully contested elections and challenge the very essence of a fair democratic process.
"I'm afraid the election is going to be rigged, I have to be honest," the Republican nominee told a town hall crowd in Columbus, Ohio. He added that he has been hearing "more and more" that the election may not be contested fairly, though he did not elaborate further.
Those remarks took center stage as Trump headed to the rally at Cumberland Valley High School later in the day to speak to a crowd of around 3,500 supporters. Trump estimated an additional 5,000 people were turned away at the doors for the rally, which began just over an hour past the scheduled 7 p.m. start time as Trump's caravan faced delays due to weather. More than 1,500 people watched in an overflow area in support of their candidate.
The raucous crowd chanted "U.S.A., U.S.A." as people waited inside for Trump's arrival in Mechanicsburg, with protesters and supporters trading barbs outside the gymnasium.
Once on stage inside the CV gymnasium, Trump centered his speech on his campaign slogan of making America great again, drawing rousing cheers from the crowd. That included a focus on more jobs, building the "wall," defeating "Crooked Hillary," repealing Obamacare, halting illegal immigration, and keeping America safe.
"We're going to make America great again. We're going to make America safe again," he said later.
The billionaire real estate mogul derided Bernie Sanders' capitulation in the Democratic primary race and Sanders' decision to support Clinton.
Trump said of Sanders: "He made a deal with the devil. She's the devil."
Trump in recent days has taken to categorizing the Clinton-Sanders understanding as a "deal with the devil" but this was the first time that he went so far as to specifically equate Clinton with Lucifer.
Trump bounced around on various campaign topics on a night that featured attendance and support from Cumberland County Republicans like Rep. Stephen Bloom, who opened the rally with a prayer; State Rep. Mike Regan; U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta; and U.S. Rep. Scott Perry.
• When discussing jobs: "What do you like better, Harrisburg or Mechanicsburg? It doesn't matter if you get your jobs back."
• When discussing Pennsylvania: "Republicans haven't won in Pennsylvania in 28 years. This year will be different."
• When discussing the Supreme Court: “Even if they don’t like me — which you do — even if they don’t like me, they have to vote for me because I am going to pick great Supreme Court justices."
• When discussing terrorism: "They can chop off people's heads, bury them in sand, and we can't water board them? It's unfair playing field."
• When discussing the campaign: "If we don't win on Nov. 8, I will consider this a tremendous waste of time, energy and money."
Trump made the claim of a rigged election during a campaign stop in Ohio earlier in the day, after first suggesting that the Democrats had fixed their primary system so Hillary Clinton could defeat Bernie Sanders. Trump has previously backed up that thought by pointing to hacked emails from the national party that appeared to indicate a preference for Clinton. Still, the former secretary of state received 3.7 million more votes than Sanders nationwide and had established a clear lead in delegates by March 1.
The celebrity businessman — who has been known to dabble in conspiracy theories, including claims that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States and, more recently, that Sen. Ted Cruz's father was an associate of President John F. Kennedy's assassin — also claimed that the Republican nomination would have been stolen from him had he not won by significant margins.
He then asserted that November's general election may not be on the up-and-up.
He repeated the charge Monday night on Fox News Channel's "Hannity," saying: "November 8th, we'd better be careful, because that election is going to be rigged. And I hope the Republicans are watching closely or it's going to be taken away from us."
Requests to Trump's campaign for additional explanation were not returned.
The statement could be an effort by Trump to lay the groundwork of an excuse if he goes on to lose the general election. But if he were to be defeated in November and then publicly declare that the election results were bogus, his claim could yield unpredictable reactions from his supporters and fellow Republicans.
Trump has not been shy about asserting that the electoral process has been "rigged."
It became a frequent catchphrase of his during a low-water mark of his primary campaign this spring, when forces allied with Republican rival Ted Cruz managed to pack state delegations with supporters of the Texas senator. Trump also asserted that the Republican Party had changed the delegate allocation in the Florida primary to favor a native candidate, like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, at Trump's expense.
In recent weeks, in an effort to woo angry Sanders supporters to his campaign, Trump has made the claim that the Democrats' process was also rigged. Monday night, Trump said Sanders "made a deal with the devil," and said of Clinton, "She's the devil."
The Clinton campaign declined to comment about Trump's remarks.