WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama lashed out at Donald Trump on Tuesday, saying the Republican nominee’s insistence the election was being rigged undermines the country’s democratic traditions and demonstrates he is not fit for the White House.
Obama accused Trump of "whining before the game is even over" and described Trump’s remarks as "unprecedented."
"I have never seen in my lifetime, or in modern political history, any presidential candidate trying to discredit the elections and the election process before votes have even taken place," Obama said.
Obama, who was appearing at a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, initially said he was reluctant to criticize Trump in such a setting.
"I’m going to be a little more subdued in my discussions of the Republican nominee in this context than I might be on the campaign trail," Obama said.
But the president, clearly troubled by Trump’s claims of a fixed election, quickly decided not to hold back. He described Trump’s allegations as a threat to U.S. democracy and to the "integrity and trust" of the country’s civic institutions.
Obama dismissed Trump’s claims of election-fixing as baseless and impossible to carry out, because balloting is overseen at the state level. In many swing states, such as Florida, a Republican governor oversees the process, the president said.
"There is no serious person out there who would suggest somehow that you could even rig America’s elections, in part, because they are so decentralized," Obama said. "And so I’d invite Mr. Trump to stop whining and go try to make his case to get votes."
Obama also leveled criticism at Republicans who have continued to back Trump despite his frequent praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin as a strong leader.
This week, Trump said Obama was to blame for the tension between the U.S. and Russia and indicated that if he won the election, he would meet with the Russian leader before inauguration day.
Obama insisted that Putin was a leader who has violated basic human rights, disregarded the laws of war and trampled longstanding borders of his neighbors.
The president seemed especially mystified by Republicans who called for him to take a tougher stand against the Russian leader and still backed Trump.
"Mr. Trump rarely surprises me these days," Obama said. "I am much more surprised and troubled by the fact that you have Republican officials who historically have been adamantly anti-Russian … now supporting and, in some cases, echoing his positions.
"It’s quite a reversal. You’ll have to ask them how to explain it."