UPDATE: At an Ohio rally on Thursday morning, Trump said, “I promise and pledge… that I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election—if I win.”
— CBS News (@CBSNews) October 20, 2016
But Trump campaign reps rushed to insisting their candidate will respect the will of the electorate.
After the debate, Mike Pence told CBS that there was “no question Donald Trump’s gonna respect the outcome of this election because he’s gonna win this election.” He added that Trump had “every right, he has the prerogative, to wait and see how the election turns out. Sometimes extraordinary circumstances develop.”
Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway hit the TV circuit this morning, insisting on ABC that Trump was simply raising concerns about what would happen “if the election is very tight, if it’s just a few votes here and there, as was the case in 2000.” On CNBC, she said that “you can count on him for a peaceful transition of power” as long as there isn’t significant voter fraud.
Even before the controversial debate statement, the campaign was hedging against Trump’s claims of a “rigged” election. On MSNBC Wednesday morning, Ivanka Trump said, “He’ll either win or he won’t win, and I believe he’ll accept the outcome either way.”
Donald Trump is unsure he will accept the results of the election, he said in the final presidential debate Wednesday night.
Asked whether he would concede to Clinton if he loses, Trump doubled down on his suggestion that the election may be “rigged,” saying: “What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I will keep you in suspense, OK?”
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) October 20, 2016
That’s a reversal from the first debate, where Trump said explicitly, “The answer is, if she wins, I will absolutely support her.”
Trump’s statement during the third debate also puts him at odds with his vice presidential candidate. Over the weekend, Mike Pence told “Meet the Press” that he “will absolutely accept the results of the election,” commending America’s commitment to “the peaceful transfer of power.”
— Jay Caruso (@JayCaruso) October 20, 2016
Trump’s questioning of the election’s legitimacy is the top headline of the night, several observers immediately noted.
He should have said he would accept the results of the election. There is no other option unless we're in a recount again.
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) October 20, 2016
So that's the headline, right? That Trump says this election is illegitimate bc Clinton is criminal? (Like he said Obama was illegitimate?)
— Kristen S Anderson (@KSoltisAnderson) October 20, 2016
That was the biggest moment of the debate.
Trump won't agree to accept outcome.
Now he's lying about voter fraud.
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) October 20, 2016
Hillary won that exchange. It IS appalling for Trump to imply he might not respect the election result. Emails are a separate issue.
— Mary Kissel (@marykissel) October 20, 2016
The fact that we have to even defend the peaceful transition of power shows how batshit this election cycle is. #debatenight
— Josh Peterson (@jdpeterson) October 20, 2016
Trump refuses to say he'll accept the outcome of the election and Hillary smiles so wide her mouth is in both split screens at once.
— Seth Mandel (@SethAMandel) October 20, 2016
While Trump’s comments drew immediate disapproval from the pundit class, a sizable minority of the electorate is also skeptical about the election’s outcome; a Politico/Morning Consult poll taken last week showed that 41 percent of voters– and nearly three-fourths of Republicans– believe that the election might be “stolen” from Trump.
The Clinton campaign rushed to compare Trump’s comments on the 2016 presidential election to his past gripes about the Emmy awards.
Trump on losing the Emmy tonight: "I should've won." #DebateNight
Trump on losing the Emmy in 2012, 2013, and 2014: pic.twitter.com/EQsmBStnC0
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) October 20, 2016
While Clinton criticized Trump about being a sore loser at the Emmys, he interjected that he should have won.