In one of the most notable moments of the third and final presidential debate of 2016, Donald Trump refused to agree to accept the results of the November election whether he’s the winner or not.
“I will look at it at the time,” the Republican presidential nominee replied when asked whether he would commit to conceding the election if he loses, as his family and campaign surrogates have said he would.
Instead, Trump chose to double down on his claim that he’s the victim of a “pile on” by the “corrupt” and “dishonest” media who, he said, have “poisoned the minds of the voters.”
Returning to the original question, moderator Chris Wallace pressed Trump on whether he is prepared to commit to “the peaceful transition of power,” a tradition which the Fox News anchor noted is “one of the prides of this country.”
But Trump did not waver. “What I’m saying is I will tell you at the time,” he said. “I will keep you in suspense.”
From the other side of the debate stage, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton called Trump’s response “horrifying.”
Outrage over Trump’s comments was hardly contained to the Democratic ticket, however.
On MSNBC following the debate late Wednesday night, Republican strategist Steve Schmidt called Trump’s refusal to accept even potential defeat “a moment of clear and present danger to our Constitutional order, to the Republic.” Conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer called Trump’s position “political suicide.”
Throughout the night and into Thursday morning, a number of Republican and conservative voices, some of whom have long criticized Trump, took to Twitter with similar expressions of disapproval and dismay.
His answer inflicts serious damage to his campaign because in the end the American people want to know if you can be a good loser. https://t.co/Jd0sxtItCv
— Michael Steele (@MichaelSteele) October 20, 2016
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
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
My thoughts on a 'rigged' presidential election. pic.twitter.com/075n83NXMH
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) October 20, 2016
.@realDonaldTrump saying that he might not accept election results is beyond the pale
— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) October 20, 2016
That was disgusting and horrifying from Trump on "rigged." That's not American. Hillary rightfully crushed him there.
— Robert Blizzard (@robertblizzard) October 20, 2016
It is imperative that Donald Trump clearly state that he will accept the results of the election when complete.
— Bob Corker (@BobCorker) October 20, 2016
Other Republicans previously rejected Trump’s conspiratorial claim that the election would be rigged against him. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., directly said at his own debate this week that Trump should stop making that claim. At another debate, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said the election outcome should be respected.
Trump did, of course, have some defenders.
Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. tweeted that it was a “wise” move for Trump to “reserve his options to challenge a rigged election.”
Wise for @realDonaldTrump to reserve his options to challenge a rigged election if Dem fraud is as rampant as many expect it will be.
— J L Falwell (@JerryFalwellJr) October 20, 2016
Evangelical radio host and Trump supporter Eric Metaxas agreed.
W/the unprecedented & now documented corruption at the dark heart of HRC campaign, why would ANYONE accept the results till they're proven?
— Eric Metaxas (@ericmetaxas) October 20, 2016
Former Ku Klux Klan leader and current Senate candidate David Duke praised Trump for not “pledging to concede to a flawed or rigged election.”
— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) October 20, 2016
Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway put a slightly different spin on the candidate’s comments, telling CNN after the debate, “Donald Trump will accept the results of the election because he’s going to win the election, so they’ll be easy to accept.”
Pressed, Conway said that, in the event that Trump is not declared the winner, she would urge him to concede only if there is no “evidence of widespread abuse and irregularities.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus offered a similar response, telling NBC News after the debate that Trump “is going to accept the results of the election.” That is, Priebus added, “barring some sort of massive fraud situation.”
Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions also stood behind the GOP nominee, arguing that Trump was simply protecting his right to challenge the election results like Democratic nominee Al Gore did in 2000.
“He doesn’t intend to be cheated or taken advantage of,” said Sessions. “He’ll defend his rights.”