SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mitt Romney says it’s “unthinkable and unacceptable” that President Donald Trump would not commit to a peaceful transition of power should he lose the Nov. 3 election.

“We’re going to have to see what happens,” Trump said at a news conference Wednesday in response to a question about whether he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power. “You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster.”

Romney, R-Utah, posted an incredulous response on Twitter later Wednesday.

“Fundamental to democracy is the peaceful transition of power; without that, there is Belarus. Any suggestion that a president might not respect this Constitutional guarantee is both unthinkable and unacceptable,” he said.

Romney appeared to raise more alarm about Trump’s comments than his Republican colleagues.

Utah GOP Sen. Mike Lee, who heads Trump’s reelection campaign in Utah, isn’t concerned.

“Sen. Lee is entirely confident that both President Trump and Joe Biden will honor the results of this November’s election,” said Lee spokesman Conn Carroll.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday he expects an “orderly” transition in January.

Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, was asked about Trump’s comment after landing in Wilmington, Delaware, on Wednesday night, according to the Associated Press.

“What country are we in?” Biden said. “I’m being facetious. Look, he says the most irrational things. I don’t know what to say about it. But it doesn’t surprise me.”

Trump has waged a monthslong campaign against mail-in voting, claiming on social media and in speeches that it’s rife with fraud. Many states are moving to mail-in ballots because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Wednesday, the president appeared to suggest that if states got “rid of” the unsolicited mailing of ballots there would be no concern about fraud or peaceful transfers of power, the AP reported.

“You’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer frankly,” Trump said. “There’ll be a continuation. The ballots are out of control, you know it, and you know, who knows it better than anybody else? The Democrats know it better than anybody else.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said the outcome of the election might take longer but it will be valid.

Trump’s lack of commitment to accepting the will of voters in November is a “shocking departure” from what’s expected of an elected official, said Chris Karpowitz, co-director of Brigham Young University’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.

“The peaceful transfer of power is a core element of our constitutional system and a key feature of a healthy representative democracy. Though elections are hard fought, candidates accept the outcome, even when it is close” the political science professor said.

He cited Hillary Clinton’s loss to Trump in 2016 as the most recent example at the presidential level. Clinton, a former first lady and secretary of state, won 3 million more votes than Trump but lost based on the electoral system established in the Constitution.

“That a president of the United States would pointedly refuse to commit to accepting the will of voters as expressed in our constitutional system is a shocking departure from fundamental political norms and demonstrates very little faith in basic political institutions,” Karpowitz said.

The importance of a peaceful transfer of power is underscored by senators like Romney and McConnell speaking out on the issue even if they didn’t name the president directly, he said.

Don Peay, a longtime Utah backer of Trump, said the president’s support in the state won’t be affected. 

“Trump says lots of things to keep the media in a frenzy and then he gets big stuff done every day. The people get that,” Peay said. “He’s not serious. If he loses the election, he’s going to transfer power peacefully.”

Scott Howell, a former Democratic state Senate leader and a Biden surrogate in Utah, suggested the president’s statement may have some impact on voters.

“Trump voters are more likely to be solid followers,” he said, adding that if the president loses, they’ll say “it’s fake news’ and that the entire election was rigged. Normal Utahns will trust the process and accept the outcome of the election.”

But Howell said some moderate Utah voters could turn to Biden.

“The crazier things Trump says, the better off we are with Utah moderate votes,” he said. “Trump is driving away moderates in droves not only in Utah but throughout the country.”