Republican candidate Donald Trump refused to say Wednesday whether he would accept the results of the presidential election next month, an assertion Democratic rival Hillary Clinton called unprecedented and dangerous for the nation’s long tradition of democracy.
Trump’s refusal and his allegations that the election is “rigged” were just two of copious flash points in the candidates’ third and final debate, held in Las Vegas, in which serious policy discussions often degenerated into insults. Clinton and Trump sparred with the barbed remarks that have marked their previous encounters. By and large, each candidate spent most of his/her time urging voters to reject the other.
Clinton called Trump a “puppet” of Russia and said he “choked” in failing to bring up his idea for a border wall when he met with the president of Mexico. She needled him for crying “rigged” when he doesn’t like an outcome.
Trump called Clinton a failed politician, a “nasty woman” and accused her campaign of prodding the numerous women who, in the last two weeks, have accused the Republican of groping and making unwanted sexual advances.
They called one another unfit to hold office. They each dodged questions about charitable foundations connected to them. They traded charges of lying.
In the meantime, they voiced significantly different views on abortion laws, the Middle East, appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court and immigration.
In one exchange, Fox News moderator Chris Wallace pressed Trump about his claims that he wouldn’t necessarily accept the results if he loses — in direct opposition to his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who has said Republicans would.
“I will look at it at the time,” Trump said. “I will tell you at the time. I will keep you in suspense, OK?”
Clinton called Trump’s position “horrifying” and said he stands to upend 240 years of peaceful leadership transitions in the United States. She said Trump cried “rigged” when he lost the Iowa GOP primary and when “The Apprentice” (Trump’s reality TV show) didn’t win an Emmy Award.
“This is a mindset. This is how Donald thinks,” Clinton said. “This is funny. But it is also troubling . . . He is denigrating — he is talking down our democracy.”
Trump seemed at his best when attacking Clinton over lost American jobs, conflicts of interest at the Clinton Global Foundation and foreign-trade agreements.
“She’s been at this 30 years,” Trump said, talking about her career in public service. “You talk, but you don’t get anything done, Hillary.”
But he was on the defensive about his favorable remarks about Russian President Vladimir Putin. The segment began with Trump attacking Clinton about her emails published by the WikiLeaks organization, but she pivoted to note that Russian hackers had been involved and Trump won’t condemn their actions.
“I don’t know Putin,” Trump said, contradicting his earlier claims. “He’s said nice things about me . . . If Russia got along well . . . and fought ISIS, that would be good.”
That’s because Putin “would rather have a puppet” as U.S. president, Clinton shot back.
“No puppet. No puppet,” Trump tried to interject. “You’re the puppet.”
When Wallace moved on to the groping allegations, Trump said the claims made by nine women were outright “lies.”
“I believe it was her campaign that did it,” Trump said, referring to Clinton. “I think they either wanted fame or her campaign did it.”
Clinton noted that Trump implied at rallies he would not have done what he was accused of because the women were not attractive enough.
“Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger,” she said. “That’s who Donald is.”
When the discussion moved to economics, Trump said he would renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement to “start the engine rolling again because right now, our country is dying.”
“I’m going to renegotiate NAFTA,” he said. “If I can’t, we’re going to terminate it.”
Clinton countered: “There is only one of us here who has shipped jobs to Mexico, that’s Donald. Donald has bought Chinese steel and aluminium . . . So he goes around with crocodile tears about how terrible it is, but he has given jobs to Chinese steelworkers, not American steel workers.”
Trump criticized Clinton’s economic plan — especially making public college “debt free” for some students — as potentially triggering massive tax hikes.
Trump said Clinton supported “open borders.” He emphasized the need to build a wall on the Mexican border and deport what could be millions of undocumented immigrants.
“We have some bad hombres here and we are going to get them out,” he said.
Clinton said that when Trump met with the Mexican president, he never brought up the proposed wall.
“He choked, then got into a Twitter war,” Clinton said.
On the Supreme Court, Trump said it “is what it’s all about.” “We need a Supreme Court which will uphold the Second Amendment, which is under siege,” he said of the right to bear arms.
He said his justices will be “pro-life” and will oppose abortion rights, and will have a “conservative bent.”
Clinton called it “the central issue” of the presidential race. She said the Supreme Court can’t stand on the side of the “powerful and the wealthy,” but for women’s rights, gay, lesbian and transgender rights; and against the Citizens United decision that allowed corporations greater latitude in spending in political campaigns.