Donald Trump on Thursday defended his reluctance at the final presidential debate to declare he’d accept the results of the Nov. 8 election no matter what, saying he reserves the right to contest a “questionable result” – while clarifying that he would accept a “clear election result.”
The Republican nominee touched off a firestorm with his comments on the issue at Wednesday’s debate in Las Vegas. In a response Hillary Clinton called “horrifying,” Trump said he would have to “look at” the vote results before pledging he’d accept them. “I’ll keep you in suspense,” he said Wednesday.
Amid bipartisan backlash, Trump razzed his critics as he kicked off a post-debate rally in Delaware, Ohio, on Thursday. Saying he wanted to make a major announcement, Trump said:
“I would like to promise and pledge to all of my voters and supporters and to all of the people of the United States that I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election – if I win.”
The line drew huge applause from his enthusiastic crowd of supporters.
Trump went on to outline his concerns about voter fraud and that Clinton is “truly capable of anything.” He called the question about accepting the election results from Fox News’ Chris Wallace, who moderated Wednesday’s debate, “unprecedented” – and invoked the contested 2000 election results in explaining why he answered the way he did.
“If Al Gore and George Bush had agreed three weeks before the election to concede the results and waive their right to a legal challenge or a recount, then there would be no Supreme Court case,” he said. “I’m being asked to waive centuries of legal precedent designed to protect the voters.”
Trump added: “Of course I would accept a clear election result, but I would also reserve my right to contest or file a legal challenge in the case of a questionable result. … I will follow and abide by all of the rules and traditions of all of the many candidates who have come before me.”
Trump, though, maintained that he would win “so big” anyway.
It’s unclear whether Trump’s comments will ease or aggravate the controversy over his debate response.
Democrats, and some Republicans, hammered him over leaving the door open on accepting the results. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., issued a statement saying he “didn’t like the outcome” of his 2008 race against then-Sen. Barack Obama, “But I had a duty to concede, and I did so without reluctance.”
Clinton said at the debate of Trump’s response, “That is not the way our democracy works.”
The exchange was among many contentious moments at Wednesday’s debate, which covered several issues including the national debt that have gotten little attention in the race so far – but flared with arguments between the candidates over WikiLeaks, over Russia, over the Clinton Foundation and over women’s allegations of groping against Trump.
Through the thicket of accusations and personal animus – they never shook hands on stage – the candidates tried generally to mount a closing debate-stage argument about experience.
“For 30 years, you’ve been in a position to help. … The problem is you talk, but you don’t get anything done, Hillary,” Trump said. “If you become president, this country is going to be in some mess, believe me.”
Clinton countered by contrasting some of her experiences against Trump’s. She said when she was monitoring the Usama bin Laden raid in the Situation Room, “He was hosting ‘The Celebrity Apprentice.’”
“I’m happy to compare my 30 years of experience … with your 30 years, and I will let the American people make that decision,” Clinton said.