Trump made the remark at the end of a speech to supporters in Oshkosh, Wis., on Monday afternoon as he implored them to vote. It follows months of Trump claiming without evidence that widespread mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic would invite fraud into the election.
“We have to win the election. We can’t play games. Go out and vote. Do those beautiful absentee ballots, or just make sure your vote gets counted. Make sure because the only way we're going to lose this election is if the election is rigged,” Trump told the group of supporters at the outdoor campaign event. “Remember that. It’s the only way we’re going to lose this election, so we have to be very careful.”
“The only way they’re going to win is that way. And we can’t let that happen,” Trump said just hours before Democrats are set to begin their 2020 convention to formally nominate Joe Biden as the party's presidential candidate.
Biden leads Trump nationally and in a number of key swing states, according to recent polling.
Democrats are increasing their scrutiny of the U.S. Postal Service after it warned states last week that it could not guarantee all ballots cast by mail for the November election would arrive in time to be counted even if voters follow state guidelines.
The disclosure came after Postmaster General Louis DeJoy adopted several changes to the agency, such as eliminating some mail-sorting machines, that have attracted criticism. DeJoy has cast the moves as cost-cutting measures meant to help the agency, which has long faced financial problems.
Trump has backed DeJoy, a Republican megadonor, while denying that his administration is undermining the agency.
"It’s been run horribly. And we’re going to make it good," Trump said in an interview on "Fox & Friends" on Monday morning. "Now what am I supposed to do? Let it continue to run badly? So if you fix it, they say, 'Oh, he’s tampering with the election.' No, we’re not tampering."
House Democrats intend to come back to Washington on Saturday to vote on legislation to block the measures implemented by DeJoy and ensure the agency can handle an expected flood of mail-in ballots ahead of the November election.
Democratic leaders have pressed for billions in additional funding for the Postal Service in the next coronavirus relief bill, but talks with the White House have broken down. DeJoy is also slated to testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee next Monday.
Trump suggested last week that he was opposed to additional Postal Service funding because it would help implement universal mail-in voting this fall but hours later shifted his position by saying he would approve funding if Democrats made other concessions sought by the White House in coronavirus relief legislation. The president has tried to blame Democrats for a lack of funding for the Postal Service to assist the election.
Trump and his campaign have largely dismissed the surveys showing him trailing Biden, arguing they understate the president’s support as others did during the 2016 cycle.
Trump’s warning about the election being “rigged” punctuates a broader assault on mail-in ballots that the president has waged with fervency since states began efforts to expand mail-in voting so that individuals can cast ballots without having to physically go to the polls during the pandemic.
Experts say, however, that there is scant evidence of meaningful voter fraud associated with mail-in ballots, and critics have viewed the president’s attacks as an effort to sow distrust about the election results.