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Trump and Clinton facing off in Las Vegas

CREDIT: Damon Winter/The New York Times (Trump); Ethan Miller/Getty Images (Clinton)

Trump Refuses to Say He’ll Accept Election Results

His stance is a key moment in the third and final presidential debate

In the third and final presidential debate, Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, said that he might not accept the results of next month’s election if he felt it was rigged against him—an unprecedented stance for a modern presidential candidate to take prior to Election Day.

Trump said he would decide only on November 8 whether to respect the election results. He also accused the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the media of conspiring in Democrat Hillary Clinton’s favor.

"I will tell you at the time. I'll keep you in suspense," he said.

“Let’s be clear about what he is saying and what that means,” Clinton replied. “He is denigrating—he’s talking down our democracy. And I, for one, am appalled that someone who is the nominee of one of our two major parties would take that position.”

The exchange was a key moment in a 90-minute debate at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, that was much more focused on substantive issues than the first two presidential debates had been. Debate moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News asked the candidates pointed questions about immigration, the Supreme Court, the Second Amendment, and the economy.

Trump was, for much of the night, unusually calm and composed. His interruptions were less frequent than they had been during the first two debates. Facing accusations of sexual harassment and criticism for vulgar and demeaning comments toward women, Trump came into the final debate with polls showing him losing in nearly every battleground state he must win to have a chance at victory.

Most observers said the debate was his last chance to stop his recent slide in the polls and make the race more competitive. Most agreed that he hadn’t managed to do that.

 “It’s completely heartbreaking to see Hillary Clinton so outclass a Republican nominee across 3 debates,” said Rich Lowry, editor of the conservative National Review.

“The Donald needed a game-changing result tonite—and he didn't deliver one,” former Republican Congressman John LeBoutillier of New York blogged after the debate.

But voters did get more discussion of issues that the next president will face. Perhaps no issue has separated the two candidates more than immigration. There are 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., and how to handle them has long been a point of contention between Republicans and Democrats.

On immigration, Trump reiterated his promise to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

“We have some bad, bad people in this country that have to go out,” he said. “We’re going to get them out; we’re going to secure the border. And once the border is secured, at a later date, we’ll make a determination as to the rest. But we have some bad hombres here, and we’re going to get them out.”

Clinton, who supports immigration reform that would include creating a path to legalization for those here illegally, responded that deporting all undocumented immigrants in the U.S. would mean tearing millions of families apart.

 “It means you would have to have a massive law enforcement presence, where law enforcement officers would be going school to school, home to home, business to business, rounding up people who are undocumented,” she said. “And we would then have to put them on trains, on buses to get them out of our country. I think that is an idea that is not in keeping with who we are as a nation.”

Supreme Court & Economy

Asked about what kinds of people they’d nominate to the Supreme Court—which currently has a vacancy—Trump said he’d appoint justices who “will interpret the Constitution the way the Founders want it interpreted.” He added that he’d look for justices who are strongly pro-life—meaning opposed to current law that protects a woman’s right to have an abortion—and who have a history of strong support for gun rights.

Clinton said she wanted justices who would uphold a woman’s right to abortion and overturn Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that allowed unlimited amounts of campaign spending by corporations and unions.

“The kind of people that I would be looking to nominate to the Court would be in the great tradition of standing up to the powerful, standing up on behalf of our rights as Americans,” she said.

The Second Amendment, which guarantees the right to bear arms, provoked a heated exchange. Trump said that if Clinton won, the Second Amendment would become “a very, very small replica of what it is right now.”

“I support the Second Amendment,” Clinton replied, noting that she had lived in Arkansas and represented upstate New York, where many gun owners lived. “When I think about what I need to do, we have 33,000 people a year who die from guns. I think we need comprehensive background checks” and to close loopholes that make it easier for dangerous people to buy guns.

Wallace also asked both candidates to address the issue that the majority of voters care most about: the economy. Clinton said she wants to raise the minimum wage and raise taxes on the wealthy.

“I want us to have the biggest jobs program since World War II, jobs in infrastructure and advanced manufacturing,” she said. “I think we can compete with high-wage countries, and I believe we should. New jobs and clean energy, not only to fight climate change, which is a serious problem, but to create new opportunities and new businesses.”

Trump promised again to renegotiate trade deals like NAFTA, which he calls one of the worst deals ever, to make them more favorable to the U.S., and American workers in particular. He also promised to get government out of the way of businesses’ ability to expand, and in doing so to grow the economy.

“We are going to cut taxes massively,” Trump said. “We’re going to cut business taxes massively. They’re going to start hiring people.”

Despite the much heavier emphasis on policy differences in this debate, most expert observers agreed that the night was overshadowed by Trump’s refusal to say he’d accept the election results if he loses.

Every losing presidential candidate in modern times has accepted the will of the voters, even in extraordinarily close races, such as when John F. Kennedy narrowly defeated Richard M. Nixon in 1960 and George W. Bush beat Al Gore in Florida to win the presidency in 2000.

Trump’s vice presidential running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, said this week that the campaign will respect the will of the voters on November 8. But so far, Trump has yet to agree.

With reporting by The New York Times .

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