His remarks were unprecedented in the annals of American democracy, a defining moment in the third and final debate and likely a watershed in the nation’s history.
Afterward, there was near unanimous bi-partisan agreement that Trump effectively disqualified himself to be president of the United States.
The debate came down to a single question, posed by moderator Chris Wallace, who defied critics with a skillful management of the debate.
“Your running mate, Governor Pence, pledged on Sunday that he and you–his words–will absolutely accept the result of this election. Today, your daughter, Ivanka, said the same thing,” he said.
“Now, I want to ask you here on this stage tonight, do you make the same commitment, sir, that you will absolutely accept the result of this election?”
Trump, without pausing with any reflection answered: “I will look at it, at the time. I’m not looking at anything now, I’ll look at it at the time.”
Then, he went on a diatribe blaming the media, “which is so dishonest” and “so corrupt, the pile-on is so amazing… they’ve poisoned the minds of the voters,” he said.
“But, unfortunately for them, I think the voters are seeing through it,” he continued.
Wallace, obviously stunned by the answer, repeated the question. “Are you saying now you are not prepared to commit to that principal?”
“What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I will keep you in suspense,” he responded.
Clinton called the prospect “horrifying.”
She said he was “talking down our democracy” and said she was “appalled by his remarks.”
“This is a mindset. This is how Donald thinks. It’s funny but it’s also really troubling,” she said.
The full impact of Trump’s statement was made clear by commentators. it was the single biggest take-away following the debate.
Respecting the will of the voters, allowing for the peaceful transition of power, has been a cornerstone of American democracy since the founding of the republic.
In modern history, there have been two instances where the outcome of an election was in question.
In 1960, President Kennedy defeated then Vice President Richard Nixon in an election so close, Nixon had legitimate grounds to dispute it. But he chose not to, honoring that tradition.
More recently, in 2000, Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote but lost in the electoral college to George W. Bush.
Rather than prolonging a legal challenge to the vote counting in Florida–on which the election hinged–Gore conceded the election.
In the closing weeks of the election, Trump has made a major issue out of his concern that the election will be “rigged” in favor of Clinton, without evidence and without understanding that balloting is overseen by election boards at the county level, making voter fraud extremely difficult.
A number of leading Republicans have disavowed his remarks. But Trump doubled down tonight, clearly signaling he lacks the temperament, and the wisdom to be president.
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