Politics & Government

Debate turns contentious; Trump won’t say whether he’ll accept election results

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump threw character and judgment charges at each other in a final contentious debate Wednesday, with Trump refusing to commit to accepting the election’s results.

“I’ll keep you in suspense,” Trump told debate moderator Chris Wallace. “I will look at it at the time.”

Trump’s comment contradicted what Mike Pence, his running mate, and campaign manager Kellyanne Conway had said in recent days, that Trump would honor the election results if he loses.

“That’s horrifying,” Clinton said in response. “He’s talking down our democracy and I, for one, am appalled.”

Trump has escalated his contention that the system – from the voting process to media that he says heavily favor Clinton – is stacked against him.

A study by a Loyola Law School professor revealed only 31 cases of impersonation fraud out of 1 billion votes cast from 2000 to 2014.

A bipartisan chorus – from President Barack Obama to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. – has urged Trump to tamp down the “rigged” rhetoric. They fear it could destabilize an orderly transition of power if Clinton wins.

With 20 days until Election Day, and polls suggesting Clinton is gaining momentum in swing states, the debate could have been one of Trump’s last opportunities to appeal to voters beyond his loyal supporters, who have cheered his rhetorical attacks. He widened his attack on Clinton, accusing her of running a “criminal enterprise” with the Clinton Foundation and saying her use of a private email server disqualified her from running for president.

The most personal moment in the debate came as Clinton was talking about her tax plan and entitlements. Trump interrupted and uttered, “Such a nasty woman.”

The debate at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, was the last of three and came as polls suggest that Trump will need a historic comeback to overtake Clinton. A Bloomberg Politics poll Wednesday showed Clinton leading Trump, 47-38 percent.

Here are five other issues that emerged in the debate.

WikiLeaks issue leads to Putin

A dispute over immigration devolved into an argument over Trump’s praise for Russian leader Vladimir Putin when moderator Chris Wallace of “Fox News Sunday” asked Clinton about saying in a speech divulged by WikiLeaks that she backed “open borders.”

Clinton said she was talking about energy resources crossing borders, and called on Trump to denounce what she said was Russia’s unprecedented intervention in the election by hacking into private emails and providing them to WikiLeaks.

“Will Donald Trump admit and condemn that the Russians are doing this?” she said.

Trump accused her of looking to pivot off immigration and charged her with wanting open borders.

As for Putin, Trump said he didn’t know him but that Putin had said “nice things about me. If we got along well, that would be good.”

He charged that the Russian leader “has no respect” for Clinton.

“That’s because he’d rather have a puppet,” Clinton charged.

“You’re the puppet,” Trump snapped back.

Clinton continued, “You’re willing to spout the Putin line, break up NATO, do whatever he wants to do.”

Trump questioned whether there was evidence that Russia is hacking the U.S., though Clinton noted 17 U.S. intelligence agencies say it is.

Allegations of sexual improprieties

The two also fought over allegations that Trump had sexually assaulted women – with Trump charging that Clinton’s campaign was behind the charges.

Trump said the women who’d come forward with allegations had told “lies and fictions.”

“I didn’t know any of these women; I think they want either fame or her campaign did it,” Trump said.

Clinton said the charges spoke about Trump’s unfitness for office.

“Donald thinks that belittling women makes him bigger,” Clinton said, adding that “he never apologizes or says he’s sorry for anything.”

She dodged moderator Chris Wallace’s question about her husband’s behavior, not mentioning it as she criticized Trump.

Hours before the debate started, the news site Breitbart, whose former chairman, Stephen Bannon, is now Trump’s campaign chair, published an interview with a former Arkansas television news reporter who claimed she had been sexually assaulted by Bill Clinton in 1980. Trump also had taken three women who have accused Bill Clinton of molesting them to the last debate.

After Trump denied at last week’s debate that he had ever sexually assaulted women, nine women came forward with allegations of unwanted kissing, groping or sexual advances. Trump on the campaign trail called their stories fabrications and ridiculed their looks.

Choices for the Supreme Court

The debate quickly exposed differences between Clinton and Trump on the high court, gun control and abortion.

Clinton said she envisioned a Supreme Court that wouldn’t reverse same-sex marriage, upheld Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that made abortion legal in the U.S., and struck down the 2010 Citizens United ruling, which has allowed a swell of donor money to political campaigns.

“The Supreme Court should represent all of us,” she said. “The kind of people that I would be looking to nominate to the court would be in the great tradition of standing up to the powerful, standing up on our rights as Americans.”

Trump said he would appoint justices from a list of 20 conservative potential nominees who would uphold a Second Amendment that he says is “under siege.” He said his picks would be “pro-life.” But when asked whether he wants to see abortion abolished, Trump avoided the question but said his justices would return the decisions on abortion to the states.

The contrast over foundations

They tangled bitterly over the Clinton Foundation, with Trump accusing the charity of running a pay-to-play scheme. And he said Clinton took money from countries with poor human rights records.

“It’s a criminal enterprise,” Trump said. “You talk about women and women’s rights. These are people that push gays off buildings. Yet you take their money.”

Clinton said she was happy, “in fact, thrilled,” to talk about the Clinton Foundation, saying it spent 90 percent of its money on programs to benefit health care and the poor.

She contrasted that work with the Trump Foundation, noting it had spent $10,000 on a “6-foot portrait of Donald. Who does that?”

Their economic plans and the tax effect

The two traded barbs over whose plan would do more to boost the economy, with Clinton defending what Wallace said was a plan that includes “more government spending, more entitlements, more tax credits, more tax penalties.”

Clinton said her plan would include “the biggest jobs program since World War II” with expansions in infrastructure and manufacturing.

And she said her tax plan would “go where the money is” and that she’d raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations.

She charged that Trump’s plan would increase the debt, and she called it “trickle-down economics on steroids” because he’d give tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations.

Trump charged that Clinton would double taxes and defended his plan against Wallace’s charge that “even conservative economists” say his numbers don’t add up.

He said he’d create a “tremendous economic engine” that would help shrink the debt and would cut taxes and “repeal and replace the disaster known as Obamacare.” But he wouldn’t say whether he’d touch entitlements.

Lesley Clark: 202-383-6054, @lesleyclark

William Douglas: 202-383-6026, @williamgdouglas

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC