LAS VEGAS — A contentious debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Wednesday night involving abortion, guns and the Supreme Court turned upside down when Trump said he might not accept the results of the Nov. 8 election.
The third and final debate between Republican Trump and Democrat Clinton began calmly enough, as moderator Chris Wallace asked them about their views on the future of the Supreme Court, which is deadlocked 4-4 between conservative and liberal justices. Then Wallace asked both candidates whether they would back the election results.
"I will tell you at the time," Trump said, reversing his claim in a previous debate to support the outcome. "I will keep you in suspense."
Trump, who has crisscrossed the country saying the election is "rigged," argued that Clinton's use of a private email server as secretary of State should have disqualified her from running. That, he said, was one reason he would not commit to supporting the election results. Clinton pounced and called the comments "horrifying."
"Every time things aren't going in Donald's direction, he claims it is rigged against him," said Clinton. She cited his insistence after he lost the Iowa caucuses and the Wisconsin primary that the Republican nomination process was rigged, that the court system was rigged when his Trump University was sued for fraud and even that he was cheated out of an Emmy for his Celebrity Apprentice show. "It's funny but it is also really troubling," she said.
Trump has crisscrossed the country saying the election is "rigged," raising fears among Republican and Democratic election officials that he will incite his supporters after the election in an attempt to undermine Clinton's ability to govern effectively. His running mate, daughter and various campaign officials have insisted that Trump will respect the outcome of the election amid a series of national polls showing Clinton with a wide lead both at the national level and in critical battleground states including Pennsylvania, Virginia and Colorado.
The first several minutes of the debate were civil, compared to their previous matchup in St. Louis. But by the end of the debate, Trump had called Clinton a "nasty woman" after she needled him over whether he would agree to higher payroll taxes to fund Social Security. On Russia, Clinton called on Trump to denounce the nation's suspected hacking of her campaign chairman's emails, and the two accused each other of being "puppets" of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Clinton framed a potential Trump's presidency as a test of the nation's moral character due to his treatment of women, minorities and the disabled, saying it's "up to all of us to demonstrate who we are and who our country is.” Trump landed blows over Clinton's family foundation, saying she should return donations from countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar guilty of mistreatment of women and gays.
Gloves off and no handshake
Like in the last debate, the two did not shake hands at the beginning, and this time they also did not shake hands at the end. In a surprise move, the moderator asked the two to deliver closing arguments. Clinton took a positive tone, saying her life’s work has been standing up for families against powerful interests and corporations to ensure good jobs and education. Trump said he’s “going to make America great again” before launching into an assault on Clinton, including that electing her would be tantamount to four more years of President Obama.
For the first time, the two tussled over abortion, and Clinton made clear she will defend a woman’s right to choose, while Trump berated her for backing late-term abortions. Clinton noted that she supports late-term abortion in cases to defend the life of the mother. “I do not think the United States government should be stepping in and making those most personal of decisions,” she said.
Trump called it “terrible if you go with what Hillary is saying,” saying it would allow a doctor to “rip the baby out of the womb of the mother” in the ninth month. “It’s not OK with me,” he said. Clinton said Trump was misrepresenting the circumstances of most late-term abortions: “That is not what happens in these cases and using that kind of scare rhetoric is terribly unfortunate,” she said.
More broadly on the courts, Clinton said she would appoint members who will “stand up” for average people and not the “powerful,” and Trump said he will nominate justices with “a conservative bent.” Trump said “the Supreme Court is what it’s all about,” contending that the Second Amendment right to bear arms “is under absolute siege.” If Clinton is elected, he said, “it will be a very very small replica of what it is now.”
Clinton disagreed, saying she respects the Second Amendment, but it's not incompatible with “reasonable regulation” to keep guns away from “people who shouldn’t have guns.”
On immigration, Clinton argued that Trump’s deportation plan is tantamount to a national effort to round up people and ship them out of our country. It “would rip our country apart,” she said.
She called for comprehensive immigration reform that includes border security and criticized Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the Mexico border. Trump stressed that he would focus first on deporting undocumented immigrants guilty of crimes before addressing others in the United States illegally. “We have some bad hombres here and we’re gonna get em out,” he said.
Clinton called it a “rank mischaracterization” that she is for totally open borders, saying that claim came from an email hacked by the Russians and turned over to WikiLeaks.
Trump refused to accept U.S. intelligence reports that Russia is behind the cyber attacks that have exposed emails from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta. He denied knowing Putin. "He's not my best friend," Trump said.
On the economy, the two debated tax and trade policy, with Trump vowing to crack down on countries like Japan, Germany and South Korea. “We have horrible deals. Our jobs are being taken out” by the 1993 NAFTA trade deal Clinton’s husband, President Bill Clinton, signed into law. “It is horrible what’s happening to these people,” he said. “Boy, did they suffer,” said Trump.
Accusations by women
The most controversial issue facing Trump in the debate was a series of stories from women spanning 30 years alleging he sexually violated them. Trump said they are all “lies” and he accused Clinton of orchestrating the stories.
“Those stories have been largely debunked,” he said, saying he believes “it was her campaign that did it.” On the women, he said: “I think they either want fame or her campaign did it.”
Clinton said Trump’s treatment of women “goes after their dignity, their self worth, and I don’t think there is a woman anywhere who doesn’t know what that feels like.” She said it is “really up to all of us to demonstrate who we are and who our country is,” she said.
"Nobody has more respect for women than I do," Trump responded. The audience reacted enough that Wallace had to remind them to keep quiet.