The One Donald Trump Debate Quote That Even His Staunchest Supporters Can't Defend
There were a number of memorable moments at Wednesday’s presidential debate, but one of them is receiving far more attention than any of the others: Donald Trump’s refusal to say that he’ll accept the results of the election if he loses. The comment was reckless, terrifying and politically tone-deaf, as it amounted to a rejection not of Clinton, but of American democracy itself. And you don’t have to take my words for it — plenty of Republicans recoiled at Trump’s comments about the election, too, including some of his staunchest supporters.
Some of these condemnations weren’t surprising, as they came from Republicans who’ve already made their distaste for Trump known. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who ran for the Republican nomination and now refuses to endorse Trump, rejected Trump’s position before the debate was even over.
“Like most Americans, I have confidence in our democracy and election system,” Graham said in a statement posted on his Twitter. “During this debate, Mr. Trump is doing the party and country a great disservice by continuing to suggest the outcome of this election is out of his hands and ‘rigged’ against him. If he loses, it will not be because the system is ‘rigged,’ but because he failed as a candidate.”
Another one of Trump’s detractors in the Republican Senate caucus, Arizona’s Jeff Flake, weighed in with a similar observation, calling Trump’s comments “beyond the pale.”
So far, nothing unexpected — Graham and Flake have long been on the record opposing Trump. But then, former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele agreed, claiming that Trump’s casual flirtation with not accepting the legitimacy of the election was not only bad, but “a disqualifying moment.”
Steele was joined by longtime conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer. In Fox News’ post-debate panel, Krauthammer said that Trump “had a really good night” in general (fact check: false), but “blew it up” at the end by saying that maybe he wouldn’t accept a loss at the ballot box.
“This is political suicide,” Krauthammer said, adding that while Americans do want “a change agent,” they don’t want “a radical that will challenge the foundations of the Republic.”
Trump was also criticized by some of his loyalists, such as radio host Hugh Hewitt. Like Krauthammer, Hewitt also convinced himself that Trump won the majority of the debate, but nevertheless concluded that his comments about the election’s legitimacy destroyed any goodwill he might have built up in the preceding 90 minutes.
“He won 14 out of 15 rounds, but hit himself in the head and knocked himself out” at the end, Hewitt said. “It is outside the norms of American political rhetoric to express a contingent acceptance of the result.”
Trump even managed to alienate Laura Ingraham, who spoke at Trump’s nominating convention and is a true Trump believer if there ever was one. Ingraham was softer in her criticism, but made it clear that she wishes Trump hadn’t said that.
If nothing else, this illustrates that Trump’s refusal to grant validity to the upcoming election — and to even consider the possibility that maybe Americans actually don’t want him as president — is a truly worrisome and unprecedented thing for a major party political candidate to say. Even people who want Trump to become president don’t agree with him on this — Trump, against all odds, managed to isolate himself from Republicans even moreso on Wednesday night than he already had. It was an astounding own goal from a candidate who, throughout this cycle, has already kicked quite a few of them.