ReutersLAS VEGAS (Reuters) — Republican candidate Donald Trump on Wednesday would not commit to accepting the outcome of the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election if he loses, challenging a cornerstone of American democracy and sending shockwaves across the political spectrum.
Trump’s refusal, which his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton called “horrifying,” was the standout remark of their third and final debate 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. OK?”
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.”
A CNN/ORC snap poll said 52 percent thought Clinton, the former U.S. secretary of state, won the debate while 39 percent said Trump, making his first run at public office, was the victor.
Mexico’s peso currency, seen as a measure of Trump’s prospects, rose to its highest level in six weeks at the end of the debate, suggesting growing investor confidence of a Clinton victory. Trump has vowed to build a wall on the border with Mexico to keep out illegal immigrants and has said he would make Mexico pay for it.
Mainstream Republicans were quick to denounce the comment. U.S. Sen. 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.”
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 told Reuters. “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.