At the third and final presidential debate Wednesday night, he stubbornly refused to commit to accepting the results of the presidential election, instead floating the possibility that the race could be “rigged” in Hillary Clinton’s favor.
“She shouldn’t be allowed to run,” he said of Clinton. “She’s guilty of a very, very serious crime.”
“She should not be allowed to run,” he reiterated, “and just in that respect I say it’s rigged because she should never—Chris. She should never have been allowed to run for the presidency based on what she did with emails and so many other things.”
Moderator Chris Wallace pushed back, pointing out that the peaceful transition of power is a centerpiece of American democracy.
“Not saying you’re necessarily going to be the loser or the winner,” Wallace continued, “but that the loser concedes to the winner and the country comes together, in part for the good of the country. Are you saying you’re not prepared now to commit to that principle?”
Trump didn’t blink.
“I’ll will tell you at the time,” he retorted. “I’ll keep you in suspense, OK?”
Clinton called Trump’s remarks “horrifying.”
“He’s denigrating and talking down our democracy,” she said. “I, for one, am appalled that somebody who is the nominee of one of our two major parties would take that kind of position.”
For Trump, the position is new. In the first debate, when moderator Lester Holt asked Trump if he would accept the election outcome, he said he would.
“Look, here’s the story,” he said then. “I want to make America great again. I’m going to be able to do it. I don’t believe Hillary will. The answer is, if she wins, I will absolutely support her.”
Since then, though, the mogul has spent much of his time on the campaign trail arguing that the election is rigged in Clinton’s favor. He’s cited a host of grievances as evidence, including voter fraud (which happens, but on an infinitesimal level and not to a degree that could even remotely affect a presidential race); the growing number of women who have come forward over the last week saying he sexually harassed or assaulted them; and unflattering media coverage of him. He even pointed to an email leaked by WikiLeaks in which a reporter asked Clinton’s campaign chairman to fact-check part of a story as evidence that the American democratic system is rotten to the core.
By the end of Wednesday night’s debate, Trump’s new position seemed clear: that American democracy might not actually work.
Shortly after the debate wrapped, though, Kellyanne Conway—his campaign manager and clean-up crew—clarified his stance on CNN.
“Donald Trump will accept the results of the election,” she said, “because he will win the election.”