Trump: I’ll ac­cept elec­tion re­sults — if I win

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Julie Pace, Josh Le­d­er­man and Jill Colvin

Mock­ing his crit­ics, Don­ald Trump pledged Thurs­day to fully ac­cept the out­come of next month’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion — if he wins. The Repub­li­can said he re­served the right to con­test ques­tion­able re­sults, deep­en­ing his un­sub­stan­ti­ated as­ser­tions that the race against Hil­lary Clin­ton could be rigged against him.

Trump’s com­ments came a day af­ter his stun­ning re­fusal in the fi­nal pres­i­den­tial de­bate to say whether he would con­cede to Clin­ton if he loses. His re­sis­tance, threat­en­ing to un­der­mine the essence of Amer­i­can democ­racy, was roundly re­jected by fel­low Repub­li­cans.

Ari­zona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 GOP nom­i­nee, called the peace­ful trans­fer of power “the pride of our coun­try.”

“I didn’t like the out­come of the 2008 elec­tion. But I had a duty to con­cede, and I did so with­out re­luc­tance,” McCain said in a lengthy state­ment. “A con­ces­sion isn’t just an ex­er­cise in gra­cious­ness. It is an act of re­spect for the will of the Amer­i­can peo­ple, a re­spect that is ev­ery Amer­i­can leader’s first re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

With the pres­i­den­tial race slip­ping away from him, Trump has re­peat­edly raised the specter of a rigged elec­tion, de­spite no evidence of wide­spread voter fraud head­ing to­ward Elec­tion Day or in pre­vi­ous pres­i­den­tial con­tests. His top ad­vis­ers and run­ning mate Mike Pence have tried to soften his com­ments, only to watch help­lessly as he plunges ahead.

Asked in Wed­nes­day’s de­bate if he would ac­cept the elec­tion re­sults and con­cede to Clin­ton if he loses, Trump said: “I will tell you at the time. I will keep you in sus­pense.”

Clin­ton slammed Trump’s com­ments as “hor­ri­fy­ing,” and fel­low Democrats piled on Thurs­day.

“That un­der­mines our democ­racy,” Pres­i­dent Barack Obama said while cam­paign­ing for Clin­ton in Florida. “Our democ­racy de­pends on peo­ple know­ing their vote mat­ters.”

His wife, first lady Michelle Obama, told 7,000 Clin­ton sup­port­ers in Repub­li­can-vot­ing Ari­zona Thurs­day that Trump was threat­en­ing to “ig­nore our voices and re­ject the out­come of this elec­tion.” She said that’s the same as “threat­en­ing the very idea of Amer­ica it­self.”

Trump’s com­ments over­shad­owed his at­tempts to di­min­ish Clin­ton’s cred­i­bil­ity dur­ing the de­bate. He en­tered the con­test des­per­ate to re­shape the race and at­tract new vot­ers who are deeply skep­ti­cal of his brash tem­per­a­ment and fit­ness for of­fice, but it ap­peared un­likely he ac­com­plished those goals.

Cam­paign­ing Thurs­day in must-win Ohio, Trump tried to make light of the sit­u­a­tion.

“I would like to prom­ise and pledge to all of my vot­ers and sup­port­ers and to all of the peo­ple of the United States that I will to­tally ac­cept the re­sults of this great and his­toric pres­i­den­tial elec­tion,” he said. Af­ter let­ting that vow hang in the air for a few sec­onds, he added, “If I win.”

The Repub­li­can nom­i­nee said he would ac­cept “a clear elec­tion re­sult” but re­served his right to “con­test or file a le­gal chal­lenge” if he loses. He brushed off the like­li­hood of that hap­pen­ing with a con­fi­dent pre­dic­tion that “we’re not go­ing to lose.”

Yet nu­mer­ous Repub­li­can lead­ers con­cede Trump is head­ing for de­feat bar­ring a sig­nif­i­cant shift in the cam­paign’s clos­ing days. The GOP’s top con­cern now is sal­vaging its ma­jor­ity in the Se­nate, fol­lowed closely by wor­ries over the Repub­li­cans’ once com­fort­able grip on the House.

“The land­scape has got­ten a lot tougher for Repub­li­cans in the House,” said Liesl Hickey, a Repub­li­can strate­gist in­volved some of those races. In Penn­syl­va­nia, Sen. Pat Toomey said Trump’s com­ments were “ir­re­spon­si­ble.”

Maine Gov. Paul LePage called Trump’s com­ments an “ab­so­lute stupid move” and ad­vised him to “take your licks and let’s move on.”

U.S. elec­tions are run by lo­cal elected of­fi­cials — Repub­li­cans, in many of the most com­pet­i­tive states.

Trump’s cam­paign pointed to Al Gore and Ge­orge W. Bush in 2000 as an ex­am­ple of why it would be pre­ma­ture for Trump to say he’d ac­qui­esce on Nov. 8. That elec­tion, which played out for weeks un­til the Supreme Court weighed in, didn’t cen­ter on al­le­ga­tions of fraud, but on proper vote­count­ing af­ter an ex­tremely close out­come in Florida led to a manda­tory re­count.

Trump tried to turn the ta­bles on Clin­ton by ac­cus­ing her of “cheat­ing” and sug­gest­ing she should “re­sign from the race.” He cited a hacked email that showed her cam­paign was tipped off about a ques­tion she’d be asked in a CNN town hall meet­ing dur­ing the Demo­cratic pri­mary.

“Can you imag­ine if I got the ques­tions? They would call for the re-es­tab­lish­ment of the elec­tric chair, do you agree?” Trump said at a rally in Ohio.

Trump’s ef­fort to shift the con­ver­sa­tion back to Clin­ton fo­cused on an email from long­time Demo­cratic op­er­a­tive Donna Brazile to Clin­ton’s cam­paign in March with the sub­ject line “From time to time I get the ques­tions in ad­vance.” It con­tained the word­ing of a death penalty ques­tion that Brazile sug­gested Clin­ton would be asked.

Brazile, now the act­ing Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee chair­woman, was a CNN con­trib­u­tor at the time she sent the email, one of thou­sands dis­closed pub­licly by Wik­iLeaks af­ter Clin­ton’s cam­paign chair­man’s emails were hacked. Clin­ton’s cam­paign has said Rus­sia was be­hind the hack.

The ri­vals toned down the vit­riol a lit­tle Thurs­day night at the Al­fred E. Smith Me­mo­rial Foun­da­tion Din­ner in New York, a whitetie gala in which politi­cians are ex­pected to be light­hearted and funny. Still, Trump drew some jeers for call­ing Clin­ton “cor­rupt,” while Clin­ton got per­sonal with jokes about Trump’s treat­ment of women and con­nec­tions to Rus­sia.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial candidate Don­ald Trump speaks dur­ing a cam­paign rally at the Delaware County Fair on Thurs­day in Delaware, Ohio.

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