One of the biggest unanswered questions about this roller coaster of an election has been whether or not Donald Trump will, in fact, accept an electoral loss—a question Trump himself has raised in recent weeks with a steady drumbeat of claims that the election is somehow “rigged” against him.
During Wednesday night’s third presidential debate, Trump’s innuendo pitched several shades darker as he raised the frightening prospect of a contested election if he’s not satisfied with the results.
When moderator Chris Wallace asked point-blank whether he would “absolutely accept” the result of the election, Trump cryptically intoned, “I will look at it at the time. I’m not looking at anything now, I’ll look at it at the time.”
As Trump continued his denunciation of the electoral system as a whole, Hillary Clinton could be seen smirking, presumably knowing just how impossibly crazy his claims sound.
But despite Clinton’s debate-stage grin, there’s real reason to be worried that Trump’s persecution conspiracy could have a lasting and horrifying effect on the United States as we near Election Day: Should Trump refuse to honor the will of the public and declare the entire electoral endeavor a fraud, he risks (perhaps knowingly) encouraging the violent urges of his most extremist, anti-government supporters—supporters already emboldened by his campaign’s xenophobic, ultra-nationalist streak.
It’s unclear whether Trump will actually follow through on his threat to contest an electoral loss. As he says, “I will look at it at the time.”
In the meantime, all eyes will be on him and how he accepts the results on election night.