Trump says he will accept election outcome (‘if I win’)

New York Times News Service

Donald Trump insisted on Thursday that he will not cede the right to contest the outcome of the presidential election even as Republicans expressed concern that he could upend America’s tradition of peaceful power transfers by refusing to abide by the result and Democrats assailed him for being a threat to the political system.

Trump’s intransigence follows another rocky performance in the third and final presidential debate in which he lashed out at Hillary Clinton, calling her a “nasty woman,” and continued to espouse conspiracy theories about how the race was rigged against him. Trump did make clear that there was one result that he would not challenge.

“I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election — if I win,” Trump said to cheers at a rally in Delaware, Ohio.

Noting that George W. Bush might have lost the 2000 election to Al Gore if he had made a pre-election pledge not to challenge results, Trump said he would not take that option off the table. He did, however, try to ease concerns that he was planning to throw the country into post-election turmoil.

“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,” Trump said. “I will follow and abide by all the rules and traditions of all of the many candidates who came before me, always.”

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He added, “Bottom line, we’re going to win.”

Clinton: But Clinton and her running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, both said Trump’s defiant comments were far beyond the political mainstream. Clinton, who called Trump’s remarks “horrifying” during the debate, repeated that criticism on board her campaign plane in Las Vegas and said Trump was bucking centuries of American tradition.

“We are a country based on laws, and we’ve had hot, contested elections going back to the very beginning,” Clinton told reporters. “But one of our hallmarks has always been that we accept the outcomes of our election.”

Kaine went further in a series of television interviews, saying Trump was trying to take down a “central pillar” of the political system because he is on track for defeat.

Kaine said he hoped voters would give the Democratic ticket “a mandate” in the election so that Trump cannot cast doubt on the outcome.

“Donald is still going to whine if he loses, but if the mandate is clear, I don’t think many people will follow him,” he said on CNN, adding: “We’re confident in the American public.”

Defiance: Trump’s refusal to pledge that he will respect the election returns has overshadowed the rest of his final debate with Clinton, throwing his supporters onto the defensive and threatening to consume Trump’s campaign with less than three weeks to Election Day.

Clinton and her allies have criticized Trump throughout the presidential race for rejecting American political norms around civility and social tolerance, and his defiant comments on Wednesday gave them a new opening to raise the alarm. Kaine went as far as citing his own experience as a missionary in Honduras, under a military dictatorship, to stress the importance of respecting democratic institutions.

Trump’s advisers have tried to cast his remarks in a softer light in the hours since the debate in Las Vegas, sidestepping his literal words to claim Trump intended to merely leave open his options in the event of an extraordinarily close and genuinely uncertain result.

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Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, said on ABC News that Trump “respects the principles of democracy” and described him as “willing to respect the free and fair democratic process.” She insisted that Trump had not signaled he would defy the results of the election, but had rather declined to contemplate an outcome that has not yet occurred.

“He did not say, ‘I won’t accept it if I don’t win,'” Conway said on CNN. “He said, ‘Let’s see what happens.'”

But Conway also echoed Trump’s angry lament that the political process is tilted against him and attacked the news media as biased against her candidate and supportive of Clinton’s campaign.

“This is not how a full and fair democracy works,” Conway said on ABC.

New accuser: The uproar over Trump’s willingness to abide by the results of a democratic election threatens to further unravel a candidacy already in sharp decline. Trump has fallen well behind Clinton in the polls after three strong debate performances and as Trump has faced escalating accusations that he sexually assaulted women.

A new accuser came forward on Thursday and described an encounter in 1998 in which Trump grabbed her arm and touched her breast. The woman, Karena Virginia, was the 10th to accuse Trump of inappropriate sexual advances since the release of a tape on which he boasted of such behavior.

With many Republicans having abandoned his campaign, Trump has spent most of the last week railing against what he has called a “rigged” election. He has said, without evidence, that there could be widespread fraud at the polls, including by undocumented immigrants, and claimed there is a conspiracy among Clinton, international corporations and the news media to block his candidacy.

Trump has faced censure from some Republican leaders and election officials in both parties for questioning the democratic process, and his debate answer is likely to prompt new rebukes from the right.

On Wednesday night, several Republican members of Congress stepped forward to chastise Trump, including Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who said on social media that Trump was “doing the party and country a great disservice” by attacking the integrity of elections.

Republican Sens. John McCain, Ben Sasse and Jeff Flake, who have all been critical of Trump, criticized him on Thursday for undermining America’s system of self-government.

But Trump may be unlikely to bow to the backlash. He already effectively overruled his advisers by saying on the debate stage that he would leave the country in suspense as to how he would handle defeat.

Several of Trump’s closest allies, including Conway and Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, his running mate, said in advance of the debate that he would certainly concede to Clinton if she won the election — only to see Trump render their comments inoperative with his own debate performance.

Some supporters of Trump, such as the conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, did sympathize with Trump’s cause, arguing that he would be conceding defeat and disappointing his supporters it he said that he was prepared to lose. However, even Limbaugh expressed dismay on Thursday at Trump’s uneven debate performance.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Delaware County Fair, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016, in Delaware, Ohio. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

“His political instincts just are not there,” Limbaugh said. “It’s not that he blew it, it’s that, man, it could have been so much better.”

Trump did try out a new line of attack against Clinton on Thursday, saying that she acted unethically by allowing Donna Brazile, the interim Democratic National Committee chairwoman, to tip her off to questions that she would face at a Democratic town hall event. The suggestion of such collusion was revealed in hacked emails released by WikiLeaks.

“Why shouldn’t Hillary Clinton resign from the race?” Trump wondered. “She’s a very dishonest person.”