Donald Trump has many talking over his bold statements on “rigged” Presidential elections during the third and final Presidential debate that took place on Wednesday night against his opponent Hillary Clinton.
Donald Trump was on his way to his best performance in a presidential debate Wednesday night ― right up to the moment when he refused, twice, to say he would respect the results of November’s presidential election.
Trump’s answer shouldn’t have surprised anybody. For the last two weeks or so, Trump has been going on and on about “rigged” elections, riling up his supporters by warning that Hillary Clinton and her allies were trying to steal the election.
Moderator Chris Wallace, who asked tough and substantive questions of both candidates, gave Trump a chance to clarify his remarks about the fairness of the election. Wallace noted that even Trump’s own daughter, Ivanka, had said that Trump would accept the results of the election, and then he put the question directly to real estate mogul: “Do you make the same commitment, sir, that you will absolutely accept the result of this election?”
Trump’s answer: “I will look at it at the time.”
Off stage, according to media reports, the audience reacted with an audible gasp. On stage, Trump went on to talk about “millions of people that are registered to vote that should not be registered to vote” ― and then, once again, attacked the media.
At that point Wallace interrupted Trump to point out the gravity of what Trump was saying ― and, basically, give him one more chance to walk it back, or at least qualify it somehow.
“Sir,” Wallace said, “there is a tradition in this country … that no matter how hard fought a campaign is, that at the end of the campaign, that the loser concedes to the winner. … that the loser concedes to the winner, and that 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?”
All Trump had to say was “of course I will.” Even a tentative, highly qualified assurance that he’d respect the democratic process would have probably done the trick. But Trump couldn’t bring himself to do that. Instead, he stood his ground, saying, “What I’m saying is, I’ll tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense, OK?”
Clinton pounced immediately, calling the answer “horrifying.” But she didn’t need to say a word.
But Trump wasn’t interrupting Clinton as frequently as he did in previous debates. He even made some cogent, forceful arguments about immigration and trade ― issues that potentially play well in the industrial Midwest and probably represent his best opportunity to pick up normally Democratic votes.
And Clinton, for her part, had some conspicuous lapses. When Wallace asked her about potential conflicts of interest while she was at the State Department and her husband was busy raising money for the Clinton Foundation, she basically dodged the question and started talking about the foundation’s good works abroad.
Trump could have pounced on Clinton’s evasiveness. He didn’t. And with his answer on the legitimacy of the election, Trump shifted the conversation away from policy or Clinton’s ethics and onto a much more fundamental issue ― support for basic principles of democratic government.
It says something about this election, and the Republican nominee, that such support is even in doubt.
Or maybe it says that Billary and Chump have been working together all along.