02:09 - Source: CNN
Trump won't commit to accepting election results

Story highlights

Trump's comments mark an extraordinary departure from a fundamental principle of American democracy

Clinton on Trump's remarks: 'That is horrifying'

Watch the final presidential debate Wednesday on CNN at 9 pm ET

CNN —  

Donald Trump on Wednesday refused to say he would accept the result of the presidential election if he loses to Hillary Clinton, raising the possibility of an extraordinary departure from principles that have underpinned American democracy for more than two centuries.

“I will look at it at the time,” Trump said when asked during the final presidential debate whether he would concede if he loses on November 8, following his claims that the election is “rigged” against him.

He added: “I will keep you in suspense.”

The comments at the Las Vegas showdown marked a stunning moment that has never been seen in the weeks before a modern presidential election. The stance threatens to cast doubt on one of the fundamental principles of American politics – the peaceful, undisputed transfer of power from one president to a successor who is recognized as legitimate after winning an election.

The Republican nominee doubled down on his comments about the election Thursday during a rally in Delaware, Ohio, where he said he would accept the results “if I win.”

Trump’s debate performance could doom his chance to win over any remaining undecided voters at this late stage in the campaign. His comments about the election results came during a debate in which he spoke of “hombres,” language that could offend Latinos. And he referred to Clinton as a “nasty woman.”

His campaign manager sought to blunt the election comments, appearing on CNN’s “New Day” Thursday.

“What Donald Trump has said, over time, if you take all of his statements together, he has said that he will respect the results of the election,” said Kellyanne Conway, although she argued what he’s saying is not without precedent.

“Everybody, including Al Gore in 2000, waits to see what those election results are,” she later added. That’s a flawed comparison, however, since Gore’s fate was in the hands of an automatic recount due to the narrow margin of George W. Bush’s lead in Florida. Gore did not question the integrity of the election before Election Day.

The election remarks also expose a divide with Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence, who told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer before the debate, “We’ll certainly accept the outcome of this election.”

CNN Reality Check

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who is leading Trump in most polls, said her competitor’s remarks were “horrifying” and accused him of taking refuge in the idea that any event that turns out against him – even an Emmy award that goes to a rival – is “rigged.”