WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) — Republican nominee Donald Trump’s flippant refusal in the third presidential debate to dispense with his claims of vote rigging and unconditionally pledge to accept the 2016 election outcome set off sirens in political circles, prompting concerns that sowing this strand of doubt could threaten the very foundation of American democracy.
“I’ll keep you in suspense,” Trump told moderator Chris Wallace, when asked if the billionaire would accept the eventual election outcome, as winner or loser.
That single sentence could signal the first tremors of a coming earthquake that will rattle America’s political stability, some experts and insiders warn.
And at a rally on Thursday, Trump doubled down, announcing, “I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election, if I win.”
“The GOP nightmare will not end on November 8,” tweeted Robert Costa of the Washington Post.
Trump’s unprecedented refusal “only stoked the specter of a grievance movement that will haunt Republicans for months and years to come,” wrote Costa, “threatening to leave the longtime norms of American politics shattered and Washington paralyzed by his followers’ agitation and suspicion.”
But the risk could stretch far beyond the confines of the Grand Old Party.
Chris Vance, GOP candidate running for Washington’s Senate seat went further, described the Trump’s move as “dangerous and un-American.”
That word – danger – came up repeatedly in conversations about Trump’s refusal.
“In many ways, it’s dangerous. It tells people he’s not willing to play by the rules,” political scientist Chris Borick told Penn Live.
And the impartial Associated Press bluntly tweeted that this tack is “threatening [a] pillar of American democracy.”
Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway did her best to quickly clean up the mess, reminding reporters that she, Ivanka Trump and vice presidential nominee Gov. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) have all committed, on Trump’s behalf, to accepting the outcome.
“He has said that he will respect the results of the election,” Conway told CNN, “but everybody, including Al Gore in 2000 waits to see what the election results are.”
Gore did contest the election results in Florida, taking his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but once the recount was stopped he publicly conceded, adding, “May God bless his stewardship of this country.”
Furthermore, Gore didn’t spend the final month of his campaign warning Democrats that his opponent was rigging the outcome.
Some noteworthy conservative Trump supporters are pushing Trump away from his current path, including talk radio host Laura Ingraham, who tweeted in part, “There is no other option.”
Trump’s purportedly eyeing the creation of a post-election media company — an ideologically driven product that his millions of supporters could consume, and the GOP nominee could profit from.
To seamlessly transition his rally goers into Trump TV watchers, it’s critical that the businessman has a story to tell.
His first major story seems obvious: The rigged 2016 election.
From there, should Hillary Clinton win, any manner of Clinton conspiracy or Trump grievance would be prime time news.
While this shrewd strategy may attract eyeballs and put money in Trump’s pocket, many worry the effect on America’s 240-year democracy will be devastating.
Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales