WASHINGTON — Sometimes, the answer to a debate question seems obvious.
Donald Trump, will you absolutely accept the results of this presidential election?
He dodged. Twice.
“I will look at it at the time,” Trump bobbed.
Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News pressed the question again.
“I will tell you at the time,” Trump weaved. “I’ll keep you in suspense.”
The final presidential debate of the 2016 campaign got off to a remarkably civil start Wednesday night: two candidates discussing serious issues such as abortion and gun control. Imagine that.
Could this campaign, ugly and unpredictable for so long, finally be veering back to more traditional territory?
Don’t count on it.
A half-hour in, the name calling and interruptions resumed.
An hour in, came the stunner: An exchange in which a major presidential candidate, speaking to tens of millions of watching American voters, declined to endorse the legitimacy of the coming election results.
“If you look at your voter rolls, you will see millions of people … that are registered to vote that shouldn’t be registered to vote,” Trump said.
He said Clinton shouldn’t even be allowed to run for president, citing the “rigged” results of an FBI inquiry into her use of a private email setup.
“She’s guilty of a very, very serious crime,” Trump said.
For the record: There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in U.S. elections. And the FBI concluded that while Clinton had handled classified material in her emails in a reckless manner, there was nothing to prosecute.
Clinton was quick to call out Trump.
She called his response “horrifying.”
“He is talking down our democracy,” she said. “I, for one, am appalled that somebody who is the nominee of one of our two major parties would take that kind of position.”
Clinton offered other examples of Trump crying foul when things didn’t go his way: when he lost the Iowa caucuses, when he lost the Wisconsin primary, when Trump University got sued.
“There was even a time when he didn’t get an Emmy for his TV program three years in a row, he started tweeting that the Emmys were rigged,” Clinton said.
Trump jumped in: “I should’ve gotten it.”
That drew a chuckle from the audience, but Clinton insisted it was no laughing matter.
“This is a mindset,” she said. “This is how Donald thinks. And it’s funny, but it’s also really troubling.”
She went on to extol the U.S. history of free and fair elections and said plenty of candidates have accepted the outcomes even “when we may not have liked them.”
The Republican nominee was uncowed.
As the 90-minute debate moved on to other subjects, Trump got in one last dig: “Such a nasty woman.”