Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump endured boos at a charity event in New York and a biting attack by President Barack Obama as the nominee’s threat not to concede if he loses next month’s elections to his rival Hillary Clinton roiled the race for the White House.
Trump cast the United States into uncharted political waters by suggesting he may not recognize the result of the November 8 presidential election and could launch a legal challenge if the Democratic nominee wins.
“I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election… if I win,” Trump told cheering supporters in Delaware, Ohio.
“Of course I will accept a clear election result, but I will also reserve my right to contest and file a legal challenge in the case of a questionable result,” he said dangling his concession.
Trump later was booed at a white-tie fundraiser for Catholic charities held in New York less than 24 hours after the third and last presidential debate.
The annual event, which raises money for needy children, typically offers presidential hopefuls a respite from the tension of the campaign trail. But Trump and Clinton opted to instead trade sharpened barbs that reflected the acrimony of the 2016 White House campaign.
Trump called Clinton “corrupt” and jabbed her for disclosures from her campaign’s hacked emails.
“Here she is in public, pretending not to hate Catholics,” he said.
“I don’t know who they’re angry at, Hillary, you or I,” Trump said in an attempt to brush off the ensuing flurry of boos from New York’s elite.
The 70-year-old billionaire is trailing badly in the polls, and his performance debate in Las Vegas opened him up to a stinging attack from Obama at a rally in Miami.
“When you try to sow the seeds of doubt in people’s minds about the legitimacy of our election, that undermines our democracy,” Obama said.
“When you suggest rigging or fraud without a shred of evidence, when last night at the debate, Trump becomes the first major party nominee in American history to suggest that he will not concede despite losing… that is not a joking matter.”
The final 2016 presidential debate on Wednesday was dominated by Trump’s refusal to say he would recognize a victory by Clinton, 68, who he accuses of conspiring to rig the vote against him.
“There is no way to rig an election in a country this big,” Obama fired back. “You are much likelier to get struck by lightning than have somebody next to you commit voter fraud.”
Although Trump looks set to lose the election, his campaign sent into a tailspin by a stream of allegations of sexual misconduct, he is likely to garner as many as 50 million votes.
Asked point-blank by the debate moderator on Wednesday whether he would accept the election result if he lost, the reality television star shattered that consensus.
“I’ll look at it at the time. What I’ve seen is so bad,” he said, repeating unfounded allegations of vote rigging.
Asked again by the moderator, Trump said “I’ll tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense, OK?”
His rival on the debate stage, and a phalanx of his fellow Republicans rushed to tell Trump it was not “OK.”
Clinton declared herself “appalled” by what she said was an attack on 240 years of U.S. democracy.
Polls show Clinton leading by more than six points and making gains even in states like Arizona, Texas and Georgia that have long been in the Republican column.