President Barack Obama on Tuesday slapped down Donald Trump’s claim that the 2016 presidential race is rigged, telling the Republican to “stop whining” and get on with his campaign.
In language normally reserved for chastising a stroppy teenager, Obama discarded diplomatic decorum and skewered the mogul from the Rose Garden in front of visiting Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
As Trump’s poll numbers have been dragged down by accusations of sexual assault, he has unfurled a litany of complaints about the nation’s election system.
Democrat Hillary Clinton has widened her lead over Trump nationally and in key swing states three weeks before Election Day.
Bookmakers in Europe -- where political betting is legal -- have already begun to pay out on a Clinton win.
“Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day,” Trump wrote on Twitter, without offering corroborating evidence.
Obama shot back: “There’s no evidence that that has happened in the past, or that there are instances in which that will happen this time.”
“And so I’d advise Mr Trump to stop whining and go try to make his case to get votes,” he told a news conference.
The withering riposte comes on the eve of the third and final presidential debate, and is just the type of comment that has baited Trump into launching distracting Twitter feuds and campaign speech tangents.
Obama also renewed his effort to tether Republicans to Trump’s faltering candidacy and described his behaviour as an aberration in American democratic history.
“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.
“That is both irresponsible -- and, by the way, it doesn’t really show the kind of leadership and toughness that you’d want out of a president. You start whining before the game’s even over?”
“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.”
Obama also slammed Trump’s “flattery” of Russia’s Vladimir Putin as “unprecedented” and “out of step” with both Democrats and rank-and-file Republicans.
The Republican presidential nominee has repeatedly voiced admiration for the Russian president -- notably calling him a better leader than Obama -- and advocated a US rapprochement with Moscow.
Trump’s support for Russia comes at a time of escalating tensions, as Washington and Moscow lock horns over the Syria conflict, and US officials accuse Russia of directing cyber attacks aimed at interfering in November’s election.