Republican nominee Donald Trump refused to say that he would accept the result of the US election when pressed during the final presidential debate of 2016. Trump did so in defiance of his campaign manager, running mate, and family—and his habit of casually undermining basic democratic norms, including threatening a political prosecution of his opponent Hillary Clinton at the last debate, has raised worries among Americans across the political spectrum of a loss of faith in the political system or even post-election violence.
Trump, whose campaign is coming apart in the final weeks of the race, has repeatedly expressed his view that the election is being “rigged” against him by a nefarious conspiracy, despite the lack of any evidence beyond his trailing poll numbers. Tonight, moderator Chris Wallace asked him point blank if he would accept the results of the election.
“Your running mate governor Pence pledged on Sunday that he and you, his words, will absolutely accept the result of this election,” Wallace began. “Today your daughter Ivanka said the same thing. I want to ask you here on the stage tonight, do you make the same commitment that you will absolutely, sir, that you will absolutely accept the result of the selection?”
“I will look at it at the time,” Trump said. “I’m not looking anything now; I will look at it at the time. What I’ve seen, it is so bad.”
Pressed again by a clearly disappointed Wallace on the American tradition of the peaceful transition of power, Trump answered again: “What I’m saying now is I will tell you at the time. I will keep you in suspense, okay?”
Clinton’s response captured that of much of America: “That is horrifying.”
Experts say the idea of a massive conspiracy rigging the election is farfetched because of dispersed control of elections at the state level. Ohio secretary of State Jon Husted called Trump’s previous comments ”irresponsible” and promised fair elections, saying “frankly, it’s the only place you can find Democrats and Republicans working cooperatively together.”
Republican senator Lindsey Graham similarly criticized Trump’s comments.
Trump’s campaign has repeatedly pushed back against his own statements, and not just because they worry about democratic norms. Repeatedly demeaning the electoral process could lead Trump voters to stay home, undermining the Republican party’s effort to protect its congressional majorities and local officials.
“Donald Trump will accept the result of the election because he will win the election,” his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said on CNN after the debate, echoing comments to Yahoo News yesterday. “Absent evidence of widespread fraud or irregularities and a close election, then yes, we’ll accept the results.”