Donald Trump on Wednesday refused to say that he would accept the results of the election, saying he will keep the country “in suspense” in what would be an unprecedented step that threatens the legitimacy of the U.S. electoral system.
“I will look at it at the time. I'm not looking at anything now,” he said when asked point blank if he would absolutely accept the results on Election Day, which is less than three weeks away.
For weeks now, Trump has suggested the election could be “rigged” against him without providing evidence to back up the claim. His vice presidential nominee, Mike Pence, and daughter Ivanka Trump have in recent days said they would accept the results. But the Republican nominee seemed to undercut all that with his answer during the third presidential debate, saying he will keep voters “in suspense.”
Trump cited the media and Hillary Clinton’s scandals as evidence the election is rigged against him during the showdown in Las Vegas.
“[The media] is so dishonest and they've poisoned the minds of the voters,” Trump said.
He then pivoted his attack to Clinton, saying she’s “guilty of very, very serious crimes.”
“She should not be allowed to run. And just in that respect, I say it's rigged because she should never, Chris, she should never have been allowed to run for the presidency based on what she did with emails and so many other things,” Trump added.
An aghast Hillary Clinton said her opponent has a long history of calling things rigged when they aren't going his way.
“Every time that Donald thinks things are not going in his direction, he claims whatever it is is rigged against him,” Clinton said.
She cited Trump’s suggestions that the FBI investigation into her private email server, the Iowa caucuses, the Wisconsin primary, a legal case against Trump University, and even Emmy snubs for “The Apprentice" have been rigged against him.
“This is not the way our democracy works. 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 accepted,” Clinton said.
Trump’s position, which drew immediate rebuke from conservatives as well as liberals, seemed to be a direct contradiction of what Pence said earlier this week. In an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, the Indiana governor said the campaign will accept the results on Election Day.
"We will absolutely accept the results of the election," Pence said. "Look, the American people will speak in an election that will culminate on November the eighth, but the American people are tired of the obvious bias in the national media. That's where the sense of a rigged election goes here."
Earlier this week, however, as Trump has sounded the alarm over voter fraud and election-rigging, Pence called on supporters to “respectfully participate” in monitoring polling places.
And after Trump's comments Wednesday, Pence told NBC News: "We're gonna continue to call on people all across this country to respectfully participate in the electoral process to ensure that we can all be confident in the vote, and if the vote is fair, I'm confident that we'll accept it."
Republicans have largely distanced themselves from Trump’s rhetoric about a “rigged” election. GOP senators locked in tight re-election bids have spoken out against questioning the integrity of elections.
Republican officials in charge of administering elections, like Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, have also said rumors of widespread election fraud are unfounded.
"He is going to accept the results of the election," Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus told NBC News after the debate, adding that Trump is going to win.
Ahead of the debate, President Barack Obama refuted Trump’s claims, telling the GOP nominee to “stop whining and try to go make his case to get votes.”
"If whenever things are going badly for you, you start blaming somebody else, then you don't have what it takes to be in this job," the president said. "There are a lot of time things don't go our way or my way…That's OK, you fight through it."