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Obama on Trump’s “rigged election” complaints: “whining before the game is even over”

Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

President Obama has no patience for Donald Trump’s false claim that the election is being rigged against him — and on Tuesday, he strongly criticized the Republican nominee, saying that Trump wasn’t showing “the kind of leadership and toughness that you’d want out of a president.”

Trying to claim an election is illegitimate before the election has even happened is “unprecedented,” Obama said. “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.”

The context here is that as Trump has fallen lower in the polls, he’s ramped up his claims that Hillary Clinton is going to steal the election through voter fraud. That’s despite a near-total lack of evidence that the kind of fraud Trump is describing (dead people voting, people voting multiple times, and so on) happens at all, or at least in numbers significant enough to make any kind of difference.

Trump is seeking any reason for his probable loss other than his own actions. But Obama has been on the other end of attempts to delegitimize election results for his entire presidency.

Yet Trump’s behavior may not be so unprecedented as Obama has claimed. After all, accusations that Democrats are cheating the system have circled on the right for decades.

For instance, during the 2008 election, John McCain suggested that the community organization ACORN, which registered people to vote, was “on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.” More generally, during Obama’s presidency, Republicans’ confidence in the results of national elections has plummeted.

Obama’s bigger argument, though, was that Trump is unpresidential. “You start whining before the game is even over? Whenever things are going badly for you and you lose you start blaming somebody else?” he said. “You don’t have what it takes to be in this job.”

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