LAS VEGAS: President Barack Obama on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) slapped down Donald Trump’s claim that the 2016 presidential race is rigged, telling the Republican nominee to “stop whining” and get on with his campaign.
The withering riposte, in language usually used to scold a moody teenager, came on the eve of the third and final presidential debate between Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Obama discarded diplomatic decorum, skewering the Republican mogul from the Rose Garden in front of visiting Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
Trump has ramped up conspiracies about America’s election system as his poll numbers have plummeted in the wake of sexual assault allegations against him.
He trails Clinton by around seven points nationwide and bookmakers in Europe – where political betting is legal – have already begun to pay out on a Clinton win.
But the White House is increasingly concerned that Trump and his supporters will not recognize the election’s outcome, and plunge the country into a political crisis.
According to a poll by Politico and Morning Consult, 41 percent of American voters, including 73 percent of Republicans, now believe the vote could actually be stolen from Trump.
“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. It’s unprecedented,” Obama said.
“If, whenever things are going badly for you and you lose, you start blaming somebody else? Then you don’t have what it takes to be in this job,” he added.
Addressing Trump’s allegations of “large scale voter fraud,” Obama said, “There’s no evidence that that has happened in the past, or that there are instances in which that will happen this time.”
“I’d advise Mr Trump to stop whining and go try to make his case to get votes.”
Trump and Clinton jetted in separately Tuesday to Las Vegas, the entertainment capital in the Nevada desert, ahead of their final debate Wednesday.
With three weeks until the November 8 election, it may be Trump’s last chance to make a positive mark on millions of voters.
Campaigning Tuesday in Colorado, a slightly subdued Trump indicated his scorched-earth tactics would continue.
“We’ve only just begun to fight, believe me,” he said. “This is our final shot, folks,” he told a rally in Grand Junction.
Polls giving Clinton the lead were inaccurate, he insisted. In fact, “they’re sort of good” for the Trump campaign.
“We are going to have one of the greatest victories in political history,” he predicted, excoriating the US media for being “an extension of the Hillary Clinton campaign.”
“The press has created a rigged system and poisoned the minds of the voters,” he said.
“Either we win this election or we lose the country.”
Trump doubled-down on his vote rigging claims, saying “voter fraud is all too common.”
His call to monitor polling stations in cities with large populations of African Americans, who overwhelmingly favor Clinton over Trump, could be interpreted as pre-election intimidation.
“If nothing else, people are going to be watching on November 8,” he told Colorado supporters.
“Watch Philadelphia. Watch St. Louis. Watch Chicago.”
Experts and Republican elected officials have denounced Trump for accusations of voter fraud, prompting the nominee to turn on his own party.
He went a step further Tuesday, calling for term limits for every member of Congress: 12 years in the US Senate and six in the House of Representatives.
But Clinton’s campaign believes Trump’s hot rhetoric has helped Democrats – not only by galvanizing supporters but also shifting undecided voters to their camp.
“We know that he thought that strategy of scorched earth would depress our vote, but if anything, we have found that it’s helped to motivate our voters,” Clinton communication’s director Jennifer Palmieri said.
Democrats are beginning to target traditionally Republican states in a bid to run up the score and help win legislative races that could decide who controls Congress.
On Thursday, First Lady Michelle Obama will campaign in Arizona, which has not voted Democratic since Bill Clinton’s landslide win against Bob Dole in 1996.
Tom Lazzaro, a 45-year-old who owns a real estate company in Colorado, said he worried about electoral fraud.
“If there’s a lot of red states that suddenly turn blue I’m going to really question that,” he told AFP at Trump’s rally in Colorado Springs.
But retiree Mike Bergst, a Trump supporter, said the nominee’s responsibility was to defeat Clinton fair and square.
“He needs to win the election, bottom line, whether it’s rigged or not,” said 60-year-old Bergst.
“If he loses, I’m not going to go around saying it was fixed.”
Wikileaks founder loses Internet connection
Also on Tuesday, Ecuador said it had cut the internet access of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is holed up at its London embassy, due to leaks by the anti-secrecy website that could impact the US election.
WikiLeaks has in recent weeks published a damaging trove of hacked emails from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, which accuses it of trying to sway the election in favor of Republican Donald Trump.
“The government of Ecuador respects the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states. It does not interfere in external electoral processes, nor does it favor any particular candidate,” the Ecuadoran foreign ministry said in a statement.
In consequence, the ministry said, it decided to “temporarily restrict” communications at the embassy.
US officials have formally blamed state-sponsored Russian hackers for the hacking of internal emails from the Democratic Party and other institutions.
On Monday WikiLeaks accused Ecuador of cutting off Assange’s internet communications at the behest of US Secretary of State John Kerry, citing “multiple US sources.”
The United States denied the allegation.
“While our concerns about WikiLeaks are longstanding, any suggestion that Secretary Kerry or the State Department were involved in shutting down WikiLeaks is false,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday.
“Reports that Secretary Kerry had conversations with Ecuadorian officials about this are simply untrue. Period.”
Ecuador also implicitly denied the claim in its statement.
“Ecuador’s foreign policy responds to sovereign decisions alone and does not yield to pressure from other states,” it said.
Ecuador reaffirmed its decision to grant Assange asylum, and said the restriction on communications at its embassy did not hinder WikiLeaks itself.
“This temporary restriction does not prevent the WikiLeaks organization from carrying out its journalistic activities,” it said.
Assange fled to Ecuador’s London embassy in June 2012.
The 45-year-old Australian is fighting extradition to Sweden to face a rape accusation.
He denies the allegation and says he fears Sweden wants to hand him over to the United States to face trial for the leak of hundreds of thousands of classified US military and diplomatic documents in 2010.
WikiLeaks, which surged into the international spotlight with that hoard of damaging leaks, has returned to the headlines this month thanks to the hacking of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email account.
Clinton’s campaign has blamed the Russian government for hacking the data, a view shared by the US government.
Washington last week accused Moscow of trying to “interfere” in the 2016 White House race by directing the cyber attacks, vowing to respond at an undisclosed time and place.
The Kremlin has dismissed the charges.
In the latest batch of leaked documents, WikiLeaks published three private, paid speeches Clinton made to Wall Street investment giant Goldman Sachs after standing down as secretary of state and before launching her White House bid.
Clinton’s campaign team has not contested the authenticity of the documents.