Las Vegas – Donald Trump’s refusal to say whether he would accept the result of next month’s election presents a new test for Republican supporters who worry that his rhetoric undermines the founding principles of American democracy.
Trump, who has railed for the last week about a “rigged” election, went a step further at Wednesday’s final presidential debate when asked whether he would stand by the results of the presidential vote.
“I will look at it at the time,” said Trump, adding: “I will keep you in suspense.”
The GOP nominee’s comments sparked outrage from some high-profile Republicans, who worried he could risk the peaceful transition of power that’s a foundation of the nation’s democracy.
Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he was “doing the party and country a great disservice.”
Georgia House Speaker David Ralston said through a spokesman that Americans can be confident of the sanctity of the voting system.
"Thousands of dedicated professionals and volunteers work to secure our electoral process each time ballots are cast," said Ralston spokesman Kaleb McMichen. "On Election Day, our country will begin yet another peaceful transfer of power - no matter the outcome."
And Democrat Hillary Clinton, standing on stage with Trump, called his remarks “horrifying” and said they prove he is unfit for the job.
Trump’s campaign sent mixed signals about his stance after the debate.
Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump will “accept the results of the election – 100 percent.” But other Trump advisers said he would stand by them.
Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said in the spin room that there’s a reason for his reticence: Al Gore retracted his concession to George W. Bush in 2000 to contest the election. And Donald Trump Jr., one of his father’s confidantes, left open the prospect he could contest the election.
“He will go with the will of the people – barring voter fraud,” said Trump Jr. “We want an honest process. And that’s what we are watching.”
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani invoked questions about the Clinton Foundation’s ties to the State Department when pressed on Trump's remarks.
“The fact that they would cheat in an election? That would be nothing compared to what they’ve done,” Giuliani said in the spin room. “The Clintons would go to any extent to influence the election.”
Democrats tore into Trump for his remark. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said he stooped to a “new low with his contempt for the sanctity of our elections." And Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams said it was a “petty, petulant and absurd rejection” of democracy that demeans him and his campaign.
“We should be ashamed of anyone who would place his ego above our nation’s stability, and I trust his advisers will convince him to do what is right,” Abrams said.
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