Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump took his claim that the election is going to be “rigged” to the national debate stage in Las Vegas, Nevada on October 19.
The exchange happened in the middle of the debate. Debate moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump whether he was prepared to accept the outcome of the election.
Trump responded by saying: “I will look at it at the time.”
“What I’ve seen is so bad, first of all the media is so dishonest and so corrupt,” Trump said.
The candidate also repeated his recent claim that there’s widespread voter fraud, saying there are millions of people registered who should not be registered to vote. Trump also said that Hillary Clinton “should not be allowed to run,” because she is “guilty of a very serious crime.”
When pressed by Wallace—who pointed out that a point of pride in the country is the “peaceful transition of power—Trump responded by saying: “What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense. OK?”
Clinton was quick to respond to the comment, saying it was “horrifying.”
“That is not the way our democracy works,” she said. “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.”
At a rally the following day in Delaware, Ohio, Trump said that he would “totally accept” the results of the election “if I win,” and said he would reserve his right to challenge the results if the election seemed unfair.
Comparison to 2000 Election
Trump’s surrogates, following the debate, defended Trump, comparing his comments to the 2000 election when Al Gore retracted his concession to George W. Bush.
Gore challenged the results in Florida which lead to a recount, a supreme court intervention, and a period of uncertainty.
“This is exactly what Al Gore did,” said former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Trump surrogate. “It was their Democrat, Al Gore.”
Trump used this argument in his Ohio rally on the day following the debate, saying that it would have been unprecedented for Gore and Bush to be questioned about concession three weeks before the election.
He also noted that he would follow the legal proceeding to challenge the election results if needed.
The comparison to 2000 is not completely accurate in regards with what happened in that election since neither Bush nor Gore called the election “rigged.”
Gore was initially called the victor in Florida, a call that was reversed later in the night, and the Democratic candidate called Bush to concede.
Then the tallies were too close to call, Gore retracted his concession, and a recount was triggered. The recount ended on December 12, 2000 when a Supreme Court 5-4 vote sided with Bush’s appeal to end the recount.
The final official margin of victory in the state was 537 votes in the favor of Bush and Gore conceded the election again.
“I accept the finality of the outcome, which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College,” Gore said on December 13. “And tonight, for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.”
Reaction by Campaign
In addition to the comparison to the 2000 election the campaign has stressed that Trump would accept the result of the election pending that it’s fair.
Campaign Manager Kellyanne Conway told CNN after the debate that Trump “will accept the results of the election because he’s going to win the election.”
She also said that she would advise Trump to concede if he loses “absent evidence of widespread abuse and regularities.”
Trump’s running mate Mike Pence echoed that reaction saying, “If the vote is fair, I’m confident that we’ll accept it.”
Former Alaska Governor and one of Trump’s guests at the debate, Sarah Palin said that Trump’s comments gave “fair warning” to cheaters, adding that he would accept the outcome pending that it’s legitimate.
Chairman of the Republican National Committee Reince Priebus also reiterated that Trump would accept the results, according to a report by NBC.
Republicans Condemn Remark
On both sides of the aisle, politicians have condemned the remarks.
Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), who lost the 2008 election against President Barack Obama urged Trump to accept the results of the election as he did.
“I didn’t like the outcome of the 2008 election,” McCain said in a statement. “But I had a duty to concede, and I did so without reluctance. A concession isn’t just an exercise in graciousness. It is an act of respect for the will of the American people, a respect that is every American leader’s first responsibility.”
Inbox: Statement from John McCain regarding the integrity of the U.S. election system pic.twitter.com/dZ4VqAG34g
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) October 20, 2016
Other Republican leaders made statements about the remarks on Twitter.
“Peaceful transfer of power & acceptance of election results is fundamental to our democracy & Constitution. This cannot be undermined ever,” Carlos Curbelo, a Republican congressman from Florida tweeted.
Peaceful transfer of power & acceptance of election results is fundamental to our democracy & Constitution. This cannot be undermined ever.
— Carlos Curbelo (@carloslcurbelo) October 20, 2016
“Saying that he might not accept election results is beyond the pale,” said Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican and member of the Anti-Trump section of the party.
.@realDonaldTrump saying that he might not accept election results is beyond the pale
— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) October 20, 2016
“Like most Americans, I have confidence in our democracy and election system. During this debate Mr. Trump is doing the party and the country a great disservice by continuing to suggest the outcome of this election is out of his hands and ‘rigged’ against him,” said Senator Lindsey Graham in a statement.
My thoughts on a ‘rigged’ presidential election. pic.twitter.com/075n83NXMH
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) October 20, 2016
Maine Governor and Trump supporter Paul LePage condemned the remark on a Maine radio station.
“Not accepting the results, I think, is just a stupid comment,” LePage said, according to Politico. “I mean, c’mon. Get over yourself.”
The two most powerful Republicans, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have been silent on the matter.
Both Ryan and McConnell have tepidly endorsed Trump, and while Speaker Ryan has said he’s no longer going to defend Trump, neither Ryan nor McConnell have rescinded their endorsement of the candidate.