WASHINGTON — Donald Trump, who’s railed for months about a “rigged” political system, used the final presidential debate to defiantly say he won’t decide until the election ends whether he will accept its results.
Pressed on that remarkable challenge to a keystone of the democratic process, his defenders have drawn a parallel to Democrat Al Gore’s contest of the disputed 2000 presidential election.
A comparison of what the Republican presidential candidate and his allies said to what happened 16 years ago:
TRUMP: Asked last month during his first debate against Democrat Hillary Clinton whether he would accept the election outcome, Trump said, “The answer is, if she wins, I will absolutely support her.”
Asked virtually the same question Wednesday by debate moderator Chris Wallace, Trump answered differently.
“I will look at it at the time. I’m not looking at anything now,” he said. Pressed by Wallace, he said, “I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense.”
TRUMP’S DEFENDERS: Several allies said Trump’s stance recalled the 2000 challenge by Gore, the sitting vice president, to an election eventually won by Republican George W. Bush.
“Al Gore did not accept the results of the elections, and he said he would,” said Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager. “He actually conceded to George W. Bush on election night in 2000 and then called and retracted his concession.”
THE FACTS: Comparing Trump’s before-the-fact, implied threat to challenge a “rigged” election to Gore’s contest of the 2000 race is faulty on several levels.
Gore’s challenge was rooted not on unfounded suspicions but actual events — Florida’s knife-edge thin vote results. It also followed a legal process that saw each political party fully engaged in backing its candidate, unlike the calls that Trump has faced from many Republicans to honor the upcoming election, which polls show he seems likely to lose.
Most of Florida’s polls closed by 7 p.m. on Election Night 2000. Within the hour the television networks and some other news organizations projected Gore the victor in the state, seemingly giving him enough Electoral College votes to win the election.
As additional Florida votes were actually counted, Bush took a lead of around 50,000 votes out of 5.8 million cast, prompting some news organizations to reverse themselves and proclaim Bush the winner. Gore even placed a post-midnight call to Bush to concede.
That decision also proved flawed.
By 2 a.m., Bush was ahead by less than 1,000 votes — a margin that automatically triggered a recount under Florida law. News organizations changed their reporting to reflect a race that was too close to call, and Gore called Bush back to retract his concession.
With the White House at stake, the recount and legal battles between the two parties lasted 36 days. A riveted nation watched a spectacle that included Florida election officials wielding magnifying glasses to determine whether “hanging chads” — dangling bits of paper punched into voting cards — should count.
Numerous lawsuits were filed. On Dec. 9 the Supreme Court ordered a halt to a statewide hand recount of “undervotes” — ballots on which electronic counting equipment had not registered a vote for president.
Three days later, the justices voted 5-4 to overturn the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling that had ordered the recount — in effective giving Bush the presidency by 537 Florida votes.
“While I strongly disagree with the court’s position, I accept it,” Gore said.