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What history says about refusing to accept presidential election outcomes

Posted at 3:49 PM, Oct 20, 2016

Of all the things Donald Trump has said during this campaign, many are calling his answer to a question last night the most shocking and threatens the legitimacy of our democracy.

The question from Chris Wallace came after Trump’s assertion for weeks that the election was rigged against him.

"Do you make the same commitment that you will absolutely accept the result of this election?” Wallace said.

"I will look at it at the time. I'm not looking at anything now, I'll look at it at the time,” Trump responded. He later added “I will keep you in suspense."

On CNN Thursday morning, campaign manager Kellyanne Conway sparred with anchor Chris Cuomo over what Trump actually meant.

“I won’t accept it if I don’t win? Fundamentally that’s what he said,” Cuomo said.

“He did not say ‘I will not accept it if I don’t win.’ He said let’s see what happens,” Conway said.

Thursday at a rally in Ohio, Trump said exactly that.

“I will totally accept the results of this great historic presidential election if I win,” Trump said over cheers.

Seth Masket is a political science professor at the University of Denver.

“It's hard to imagine it,” Masket said. “But that's probably the most shocking thing he's said so far.”

Market says a statement like that is something that hasn’t been seen in the United States since 1860.

“A fair chunk of the country said ‘we do not consider Abraham Lincoln’s election legitimate,’” Masket said. “That lead to a succession, that lead to a civil war which lead to the death of two percent of the country."

Trump and his supporters say the 2000 election is why he couldn’t and shouldn’t make the commitment to accept the election results now, but Masket says that was different.

“When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, which was more than a month after the election, Al Gore did concede at that point,” Masket said. “There was no point in which there was a clear outcome and he said ‘I refuse to accept it.’"

At the end of his rally in Ohio today, Trump did back off of his original statements.

“Of course I would accept a clear election result,” Trump said to a much quieter crowd. “But I would also reserve my right to contest or file a legal challenge in the case of a questionable result."

It’s unclear how much more damage his statements at Wednesday night’s debate have done to Trump’s already sagging poll numbers.

Conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer said on Fox News, Wednesday night that Trump’s refusal to say he would accept the results was “political suicide."