The bitterly divisive 2016 race for the White House appears headed for an even more bitterly divided ending, with Donald Trump refusing to say at the third and final debate on Wednesday if he will accept the election outcome.
“I will tell you at the time,” the Republican told moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News when asked whether he will accept the outcome if he lost. “I will keep you in suspense.”
“That’s horrifying,” Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee replied, catching her opponent on perhaps his worst moment of a night he was supposed to try and turn around his campaign. “That is not the way our democracy works.”
If the Republican nominee’s intention was to leave the stage with the headline of the night, he succeeded. Almost every news platform — print, TV and online — was leading with his refusal to commit himself to accepting the election results.
The New York Times called it the “most stunning statement from a major party candidate”. The Washington Post described it as a “startling break from American democratic tradition” and “explosive”. The Wall Street Journal said it was “stunning”.
The question came up in the context of recent complaints from the Republican nominee about election frauds and rigging and that the elections could be “stolen” from — a possibility that has been summarily dismissed by all but some Trump surrogates.
Trump, 70, had needed a good, solid debate to stanch the bleeding in his campaign, plunging poll numbers, allegations of sexual assault on women, a 2005 tape on which he had boasted of groping women and sexually assaulting them.
And for the first few minutes of the Wednesday debate, Trump looked he might be able to deliver. He seemed even-tempered, went toe-to-toe with Clinton on Supreme Court appointments, gun control, without insults or interruptions. They disagreed, but stayed civil.
Then Clinton poked him on immigration, saying he “choked” when he failed to bring up the wall, his campaign’s central promise, in his highly publicised meeting with the Mexican president in August.
Trump, the counterpuncher, took the bait and soon turned into the snippy, easily-riled man he is known to be. He interrupted Clinton time and again, just saying, “Wrong”. He called her “liar” accused her of running a “sleazy” campaign”.
During a discussion on entitlements — social security and medicare benefits — Clinton poked him on his taxes, and he called her a “nasty woman”, which soon popped up as a hashtag on twitter to reanimate his troubles with woman voters.
Clinton, who went into the date with a 7.5-point lead in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, looked and behaved in complete control of her answers. She defended her positions and policies, and attacked with tightly framed formulations.
And she had her zingers. Talking about Trump’s open admiration for Vladimir Putin she said he would be a “puppet” of the Russian president.
She challenged the Republican to condemn Russia, which has been blamed by the US intelligence community for a string of recent hackings of the Democratic Party network and her campaign chair’s emails.
“She has no idea whether it’s Russia, China, or anybody else,” Trump replied. And when reminded by Clinton that 17 intelligence agencies had pointed to Russia, Trump added, “Hillary, you have no idea. Our country has no idea.”
Trump went to declare himself the winner as he has after every debate, citing some stray snap-polls in support. But Clinton had done decidedly better, and some pundits, including those on the right, grave her not only the third, but also the two before.
Trump and ‘high representatives’ from India
Was Donald Trump still thinking about the Republican Hindu Coalition rally from last weekend when he spoke about “some high representatives of India” at the debate when making a point about his economic plans?
“I just met some high representatives of India…they are growing at 8 percent,” Trump said.
Trump attended a rally last weekend in Edison, New Jersey organised by the Republican Hindu Coalition, at which he met the body’s founder Shalli Kumar and others.
They may have spoken about the state of India’s economy, but it wasn’t immediately clear if he was referring to those interactions or any other he may have had since.