THE BLOG
09/28/2016 06:25 pm ET Updated Sep 29, 2017

If Trump Won't Admit To Losing The Debate, Will He Admit To Losing An Election?

American democracy is ultimately predicated on a certain level of comity between political factions, particularly during transitions of power. Leaders of both parties might snipe and engage in pitched battles yet are able to hand over power in a relatively smooth fashion. For more than a century, the Democratic and Republican Parties have accepted electoral defeat and marshaled themselves to fight again in two or four years.
 
Donald Trump's behavior following his clear defeat in Monday night's debate with Hillary Clinton calls into question whether or not he will be willing to accept November 8's results.
 
This was clearly on debate moderator and NBC anchor Lester Holt's mind when he asked both candidates if they will be "willing to accept the outcome [of the election] as the will of the voters?"
 
Clinton immediately answered she will "support the outcome of this election."
 
After Trump offered a rambling response that had nothing to do with the question asked, Holt was forced to follow up with him a second time. Trump finally stated that "I don't believe Hillary will. The answer is, if she wins, I will absolutely support her."
 
This pledge is as worthless as a degree from Trump University. After all, before he won the Republican primary, Trump confessed that he had no plans to abide by his signed pledge to support whomever won the GOP nomination.  
 
Trump's behavior in the 48 hours since he resoundingly lost the presidential debate at Hofstra University not only demonstrated his penchant for denying reality, it also foreshadowed a dangerous post-election playbook for his campaign.
 
Trump turned to self-selecting online exercises--to call them surveys or polls connotes an air of legitimacy and scientific validity they do not deserve--touting his mythical victory, even though they measure nothing other than the whim of website visitors to click a button, sometimes over and over again. He also thanked Fox for promoting the results of these online games. Trump even cited polls that did not exist.
 
The GOP nominee then turned his ire on Holt. While conceding that the debate moderator "was okay" and "didn't do a bad job," Trump told "Fox & Friends" that "he gave me very unfair questions at the end, the last three, four questions." Among those unfair questions was: "Are you willing to accept the outcome as the will of the voters?" Trump also complained about "some hostile questions" from Holt.
 
This was after claiming he was given "a defective mic," perhaps "on purpose."
 
This could all be cast aside as the normal political wrangling that comes as part of every election cycle. Except there was never a need to ask whether Mitt Romney or John McCain would refuse to accept the validity of electoral results.
 
After McCain and Romney lost their respective contests with President Obama, the fringes of the Right ginned up hysterical lies about ACORN stealing the election, race baited about the New Black Panther party and concocted dozens of other conspiracy theories. Regardless, the will of the voters was allowed to be carried out.
 
Trump's delusional inability to accept a loss, once again demonstrated by his behavior following Monday night's debate, could spark a constitutional crisis.
 
If he does refuse to accept the election of Hillary Clinton, what would that look like? There are plenty of points after November 8 at which he could attempt to poke a stick into the spokes of the wheel of democracy. Trump could demand that states not certify the results of the election or he could attempt to convince members of Congress to reject electors.
 
Following the 2008 election, 52 percent of Republicans believed ACORN stole the election for Obama. Forty-nine percent of Republicans believed this following the 2012 election even though the organization had been disbanded more than two years earlier. Suffice it to say that at least a sizeable chunk of the GOP's base would likely follow Trump off this dangerous cliff. Would Republican members of Congress or their leadership fear their wrath in primaries and therefore go along with those trying to cast an election into doubt?
 
Furthermore, would the media give an air of legitimacy to an undemocratic attempt to subvert the will of voters? What about media figures still on the payroll of the Trump campaign? Or those who have participated in their ads? Or what about media outlets run by the campaign's chairman?
 
Holt was right to insist that Trump answer whether or not he would accept the outcome of the election. The question, as always, is whether he'll keep his word.