DONALD Trump dug his campaign into a deep hole during the final presidential debate.
It doesn’t matter which TV channel you watch or which news website you read. They’re all talking about the same thing: Trump’s refusal to promise he would accept the outcome of the election.
The critical moment came when the moderator, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, interrogated Trump about his claims the election is “rigged” against him.
“You have been warning at rallies recently that this election is rigged and that Hillary Clinton is in the process of trying to steal it from you,” Wallace said.
“Your running mate, Mike Pence, pledged on Sunday that he and you — his words — will absolutely accept the result of this election. Today your daughter Ivanka said the same thing. I ask you on the stage tonight, sir, do you make the commitment that you will absolutely accept the result of the election?”
“I will look at it at the time. I will not do anything now. I will look at it at the time,” Trump said.
“What I have seen is so bad. First of all, the media is so dishonest and so corrupt ... they’ve poisoned the minds of the voters, but unfortunately for them I think they’re going to see through it. We’ll find out on November 8.
“If you look at your (voter) rolls you will see millions of people — this isn’t coming from me — there are millions of people who are registered to vote who shouldn’t be. I talk about the corrupt media, I talk about the millions of people.
“I will tell you one other thing. (Hillary Clinton) shouldn’t be allowed to run. She is guilty of a very, very serious crime. Just in that respect I say it is rigged.”
Wallace followed up, trying to clarify Trump’s answer.
“But sir, there is a tradition in this country that is the peaceful transition of power, and that no matter how hard-fought a campaign is, that at the end of the campaign the loser concedes to the winner — not saying that you’re necessarily going to be the loser or the winner — and that the country comes together, in part for the good of the country. Are you saying you’re not prepared now to commit to that principle?” Wallace asked.
“What I am saying is I will tell you at the time. I will keep you in suspense, OK?” Trump shot back.
It’s hard to overstate how big a deal this is. If Trump does lose on November 8 — and barring a miraculous turnaround in the polls, he will — there is a real chance he won’t concede. That flies in the face of centuries of tradition.
Nothing captures that tradition better than this letter, which was first revealed to the American people in 2011, but has popped up on the internet again in recent days. It’s the note President George H.W. Bush wrote to his successor, Bill Clinton, after losing the 1992 election.
When I walked into this office just now, I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that too.
I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.
There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.
You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.
Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.
Every president writes a gracious letter like that to the person replacing him in the job, even if the person in question is a bitter political enemy. And former presidents always form friendships with one another, despite their differences. Clinton and George W. Bush, for example, have been close friends for years.
Donald Trump is trashing that spirit. He’s wrecking America’s long history of peaceful and magnanimous transfers of power between the parties. The question is, why?
“Every time Donald thinks things are not going in his direction, he claims whatever it is is rigged against him,” Hillary Clinton said during the debate.
“The FBI conducted a year-long investigation into my emails. They concluded there was no case. He said the FBI was rigged.
“He lost the Iowa caucus, he lost the Wisconsin primary. He said the Republican primary was rigged against him.
“Then Trump University gets sued for fraud and racketeering. He claims the court system and the federal judge were rigged against him.
“There was a time when he didn’t get an Emmy three years in a row and said the Emmys were rigged.”
There’s your answer. Trump is just doing what he always does. The man bases his self-worth on his reputation as a “winner”, so whenever something threatens that label, he tries to rationalise it away. His whining about a “rigged” election isn’t a strategy to win more votes, it’s just his personal defence mechanism.
At the moment, Trump is hurtling towards the most humiliating defeat of his life. He’s about to be labelled a loser in front of the entire world, and he’s trying to set up his excuses in advance.
He should read that letter from President Bush. It doesn’t just demonstrate respect for the office of president — it shows how a beaten candidate can retain his dignity.