International desk – Republican Donald Trump has refused to commit to accepting the election result if he loses, in the final TV debate against Hillary Clinton on the next month’s US national polls.
“I will tell you at the time,” he told moderator Chris Wallace. For days he has claimed the election is “rigged”.
The Las Vegas debate continued the campaign’s bitter tone, with Trump calling Clinton a “nasty woman”.
Polls show Trump is losing in key battleground states after facing a slew of sexual assault allegations.
The final battle of wits came Wednesday less than three weeks before election-day on November 8.
The New York Times reported, in a remarkable statement that seemed to cast doubt on American democracy, Donald J. Trump said that he might not accept the results of next month’s election if he felt it was rigged against him — a stand that Hillary Clinton blasted as “horrifying” at their final and caustic debate.
Trump, under enormous pressure to halt Clinton’s steady rise in opinion polls, came across as repeatedly frustrated as he tried to rally conservative voters with hard-line stands on illegal immigration and abortion rights. But he kept finding himself drawn onto perilous political territory by Clinton and the debate’s moderator, Chris Wallace, the newspaper reported.
He sputtered when Clinton charged that he would be “a puppet” of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia if elected. He lashed out repeatedly, saying that “she’s been proven to be a liar on so many different ways” and that “she’s guilty of a very, very serious crime” over her State Department email practices.
And by the end of the debate, when Clinton needled him over Social Security, Trump snapped and said, “Such a nasty woman.”
Clinton was repeatedly forced to defend her long service in government, which Trump charged had yielded no real accomplishments.
But she was rarely rattled, and made a determined effort to rise above Trump’s taunts while making overtures to undecided voters.
She particularly sought to appeal to Republicans and independents who have doubts about Trump, arguing that she was not an opponent of the Second Amendment as he claimed, and promising to be tougher and shrewder on national security than Trump.
According to Guardian US edition, Clinton described her rival’s refusal to accept the outcome of the election as “horrifying”.
“He is denigrating and he is is talking down our democracy,” said the former secretary of state. “And I, for one, am appalled that someone who is the nominee of one of two major parties would take that position.”
“Every time Donald thinks things are not going in his direction, he claims whatever it is is rigged against him,” said Clinton, adding that he has, at various times, accused the FBI, Republican primary process and judicial system of being corrupt.
“There was even a time when he didn’t get an Emmy for his TV program three years in a row and he started tweeting that the Emmys were rigged.”
“Should have gotten it!” Trump interjected.
People in the debate auditorium giggled at that interruption from the Republican nominee, one of several occasions when the audience could be heard breaking a rule that they should stay silent.
On another, there were sniggers when Trump insisted: “Nobody has more respect for women that I do, nobody.”
The businessman’s treatment of women was once again on trial in a debate.
Asked about the nine women who have come forward to accuse Trump of the sexually predatory behavior he bragged about in a 2005 video leaked earlier this month, Trump insisted they were all either seeking “10 minutes of fame” or had been somehow orchestrated by Clinton’s campaign.
“Those stories are all totally false – I have to say that,” Trump said. “And I didn’t even apologize to my wife who is sitting right here because I didn’t do anything.”
Pointing out how Trump has publicly denigrated his accusers, Clinton said: “Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger. He goes after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don’t think there is a woman anywhere doesn’t know what that feels like.”
The Guardian says one of the women to level accusations at Trump, Jill Harth, who gave an extensive interview to Guardian US, tweeted mid-debate: “Trump lied and lied again,” adding: “He says he doesn’t know any of the women. Well, he definitely knew me.”
Another exchange from Trump likely to alienate some women, but one seemingly intended to court the evangelical, stemmed from a discussion about the future shape of the US supreme court, which has had an unfilled vacancy since conservative Antonin Scalia’s death in February.
Trump portrayed himself as a candidate who would protect the second amendment right to keep and bear arms and said Roe v Wade, the historic ruling in 1973 that legalized abortion in the US, would “automatically” be overturned if he were elected because of his commitment to pro-life justices.
The Republican characterized Clinton’s position as one that would “rip the baby out of the womb of the mother” just days before a pregnancy. “You can say that that is OK and Hillary can say that that is OK, but it’s not OK with me.”
Clinton countered that Trump’s “scare rhetoric is just terribly unfortunate”, while setting out her view in favor of women’s reproductive rights.
“I can tell you the government has no business in the decisions that women make with their families in accordance with their rights,” she said.
The third debate was not as one-sided as the opening televised contest between the two candidates, in which Clinton was by most accounts declared the winner.
Neither was it as personal as the second debate, in which the candidates clashed in some of the most brutal exchanges ever seen on a presidential stage.
However there was nothing in the last debate that seemed likely to alter the dynamics of a race in which Clinton has a six-point lead in an average of national polls – and an edge in almost all of the key battleground states needed to win the White House.
A CNN/ORC poll of debate watchers found 52 per cent who thought Clinton emerged the victor, compared to 39 per cent who said Trump won.
Embarrassingly for Trump, who has claimed victory in the wake of previous debates because he “won” instant – easily rigged – online polls, he was also declared the loser on an online survey conducted by the pro-Trump website Breitbart.com.
The bad blood between the candidates was unmistakeable throughout their final head-to-head; pointedly, there was no handshake before or after the contest.
Trump spoke in stark terms about immigration, the touchstone of his campaign, saying there were mothers in the audience whose children had been “brutally killed” by undocumented immigrants.
He promised to stem what he characterized as an avalanche of people and heroin coming across the border, which he said was “poisoning the blood” of young Americans.
Trump reiterated his call for a wall on the US-Mexico border and said of his plans to deport undocumented immigrants: “We have some bad hombres here that we’re going to get them out.”
Clinton reiterated her position of allowing undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows, and mocked Trump for failing to mention his signature wall during his meeting with the Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto over the summer. “He choked,” she said.
She also delivered a wounding line telling him that there were “undocumented immigrants in America who are paying more federal income tax than a billionaire”.
Trump did not deny the charge of tax avoidance, instead repeating his argument that he only exploited loopholes that she should have changed with legislation when she was a New York senator.
“Because your donors and your special interest are doing the same thing as I do – except even more so,” he said.