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Republicans cast doubt on whether Biden can win legitimately in 2024

A number of Republican candidates — and voters — are already questioning whether the system will be fair if President Joe Biden wins re-election.
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A number of the Republican presidential candidates are refusing to commit to accepting the results of the 2024 election if President Joe Biden wins.

NBC News and The Des Moines Register sat down with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy this week in Iowa and asked all three of them if they would accept a Biden victory in November.

In particular, DeSantis’ and Ramaswamy’s reluctance to readily accept the possibility that Biden could achieve a legitimate victory reflects the continuing hold on the GOP of former President Donald Trump’s unfounded belief that the 2020 election was stolen from him — three years after his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol to try to stop Congress from certifying Biden’s win.

Even Republicans who don’t accept Trump’s belief that he won in 2020 recognize that many voters in the party don’t fully trust the system any longer.

Trump supporters occupy the West Front of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Trump supporters occupy the West Front of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images file

DeSantis told NBC News correspondent Dasha Burns on Thursday that he would accept the results “if it was a transparent victory.” But he still raised the possibility of fraud.

“If it was a transparent victory, obviously you accept the results, but I don’t know what Democrats have up their sleeve,” he said. “I mean, what you’re saying is if there was fraud, I’m just supposed to turn a blind eye. I’m not going to do that.”

Ramaswamy similarly raised concerns.

“If that’s how it goes, through a free and fair election system, then obviously I will accept the results of an electoral process,” he told Burns on Wednesday. “But what I will tell you is this: We need an electoral process we can trust and believe in.” Ramaswamy’s criteria for that included single-day voting, which is no longer the norm in most states.

“I think that in some ways, this question is based on a fictitious premise that people who are allowed to run for president even are able to run for president. We’re having a discussion about one of the two major candidates being removed forcibly from the ballot,” Ramaswamy added. “So we have major forms of election interference staring us in the face.”

Ramaswamy was referring to decisions in Colorado and Maine that have determined Trump is ineligible to be on the primary ballot. The Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear Trump’s appeal of the decision in Colorado, as the decisions move through the legal system.

Vivek Ramaswamy speaks during an interview.
Ramaswamy said a major takeaway from the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol in 2021 is that censorship is bad.Jamie Kelter Davis for NBC News

Haley also said the country needs to “make sure we always do what it takes to protect the integrity of the election process,” and that there were “a few states that haven’t done that yet.”

But she also said more definitively that she would accept the results, adding, “I am assuming that we’re gonna have an election that is fair, that is strong, and that people can be proud of.”

“So, you’re confident you will be able to accept the results in November?” Burns asked.

“Yeah, of course,” Haley replied.

In May, Trump told CNN that he would accept the results — but also added an “if” clause.

“Yes, if I think it’s an honest election, absolutely, I would,” he said.

Trump is already raising the possibility of rigged elections. His campaign is out with a mailer in Iowa accusing DeSantis of “trying to rig” the Jan. 15 caucuses.

DeSantis said Thursday that he doesn’t believe Trump will accept the caucus results if he loses.

Ron DeSantis speaks during an interview.
DeSantis said he doesn't think Trump will accept a loss in the Iowa caucuses.Jamie Kelter Davis for NBC News

“If he doesn’t win this time, he’s going to say the same thing,” DeSantis said in his interview. “It doesn’t matter what happens, he will say the same thing. That’s just how he rolls.”

It’s a demonstration of how the 2020 election results, and the Jan. 6 attack, continue to hang over this election cycle’s contest — even though DeSantis told NBC News on Thursday that it doesn’t come up on the trail.

“I’ve not had a single question in Iowa about Jan. 6. I mean, I’ve taken hundreds and hundreds of questions,” he said.

But Trump still faces legal jeopardy for, among other things, a case around whether he conspired to overturn the 2020 election results. And all the candidates have continued to get questions about whether they’d pardon the former president, should he be convicted. (DeSantis, Haley and Ramaswamy have all said they would.)

Voters, too, have followed the Republican candidates’ lead in already expressing skepticism about the legitimacy of the 2024 election results.

Barb Forney, 60, a Republican in Ames, Iowa, who is supporting Ramaswamy this year, told NBC News on Friday that it was “not conceivable” that Biden could have a legitimate win in November.

“It was rigged, if he wins. My honest belief is that I don’t think he can win,” said Connie Lendt, a 69-year-old DeSantis supporter in Woodward, Iowa.

Trump has publicly embraced his supporters who found themselves in legal trouble in connection with the Jan. 6 attack, promising to pardon them and championing their cause.

When asked what lessons they took away from the attack on the U.S. Capitol — which left five people dead and about 140 police officers injured — the candidates had very different answers.

Nikki Haley during an interview in Des Moines, Iowa
Haley went further than both DeSantis and Ramaswamy in saying that she would accept the 2024 election results, even if Biden wins. Jamie Kelter Davis for NBC News

Haley called it a “terrible day” and said the country “can never let that happen again.”

“I don’t know anybody that saw what happened that didn’t have their heart fall to their stomach,” she added.

Ramaswamy, however, said he still needs to hear more of the “facts” around that day, wondering “how many federal agents or informants were in the field.” His second takeaway was that “systemic censorship” led up to Jan. 6.

“If you tell people they cannot speak, that’s when they scream. If you tell people they cannot scream, that’s when they tear things down,” he said.

DeSantis said he believed the attack had been “politicized by the left.”

“I think people went to protest and I think it got out of hand,” he added.

In a speech Friday in Iowa, Trump was once again raising doubts about the electoral process and getting his supporters ready for the prospect of election interference by Democrats.

“Joe Biden is a threat to democracy," he said. "He's weaponizing law enforcement for a high-level election interference. It's all about election interference."