‘I’ll keep you in suspense’: Donald Trump invites backlash by refusing to promise he’ll respect election result
Republican candidate is trailing in opinion polls and appears likely to lose to Clinton on November 8
Republican candidate Donald Trump’s refusal to commit to accepting the outcome of the November 8 US presidential election if he loses has sent shock waves across the American political spectrum.
Trump’s refusal, which his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton called “horrifying”, was the standout remark of the their third and final debate Wednesday and ratcheted up claims he has made for weeks that the election was rigged against him.
Asked by moderator Chris Wallace whether Trump would not commit to a peaceful transition of power, the businessman-turned-politician replied: “What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense.”
Trump’s statement may appeal to his anti-establishment followers, but it was unlikely to reverse opinion polls that show him losing, including in key states that will decide the election.
“That is not the way our democracy works,” Clinton said during the debate. “We’ve been around for 240 years. We’ve had free and fair elections. We’ve accepted the outcomes when we may not have liked them. And that is what must be expected of anyone standing on a debate stage during a general election.”
Later she told reporters: “What he said tonight is part of his whole effort to blame somebody else for where he is in his campaign.”
Some Republicans were quick to denounce Trump’s remarks. US Senator Lindsey Graham, a former Republican presidential candidate who has never warmed to Trump, said: “If he loses, it will not be because the system is ‘rigged’ but because he failed as a candidate.”
Neoconservative Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard political magazine, tweeted: “I deplore what Trump said and refused to say about accepting the election results. Confirms one’s judgment he shouldn’t be president.”
Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who also ran for the Republican presidential nomination and now supports Trump, defended him.
He said Trump’s message was that: “If there’s some kind of obvious fraud going on, he’s going to say something about it.”
“He didn’t say he wouldn’t accept it,” Carson said. “He said he would evaluate it at the time.”
Trump’s running mate, vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence, said Trump “will accept the outcome” because he is going to win. But Republican strategist Ryan Williams found Trump’s statement “deeply concerning”.
“You have to accept the results of the election unless there are grounds for a recount and at this point it does not appear that we’re heading for a close election,” he said.
In a debate that for the first time focused more on policy than character, the two candidates nonetheless lashed out at each other.
Trump called Clinton “such a nasty woman”, accused her campaign of orchestrating a series of accusations by women who said the businessman made unwanted sexual advances and said that both she and President Barack Obama, her fellow Democrat, were behind disturbances at his rallies.
He said the Clinton Foundation was a criminal enterprise and as a result she should not have been allowed to seek the presidency.
In turn, Clinton said Trump himself had incited violence, belittled women and posed a danger to the US. She said Trump, a former reality TV star, had in the past also complained that his show was unjustly denied a US television Emmy award.
Trump said all of the stories of sexual misdeeds were “totally false” and suggested Clinton was behind the charges. He called her campaign “sleazy” and said: “Nobody has more respect for women than I do, nobody.”