Conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer said Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was winning the final debate against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton until he committed "political suicide" by not affirming he would accept the results of the Nov. 8 election.
“I will tell you at the time,” Trump told moderator Chris Wallace, who asked him and Clinton Wednesday night if they would accept the election results.
“I will keep you in suspense, OK,” he added.
Trump's response — which Clinton said was "horrifying" — had debate watchers from both sides of the aisle in disbelief, and Krauthammer was among them.
"Trump had a really good night, but here the consensus is right: He blew it up with a totally wrong answer on accepting the results," Krauthammer told Fox News. "And in some sense I almost admire him for it. This was not a gaffe where you say something off the cuff and it's what you think and it's wrong."
This is political suicide. Because what was his task tonight? His task tonight was to stop the slide. The slide had to do with people who are grudgingly going over to Clinton who don't want to, who've held out for a year but for the last three weeks said, 'I can't have Trump.' This was his opportunity to show them.
They're not going to change their views on Clinton, but if they could change their views on Trump to make him less toxic and acceptable as president and less radical. Yes, they want a change agent — they think the country is on the wrong track — but they don't want a radical who will challenge the foundations of the republic. Yes, you criticize conditions, you're gonna change Washington, et cetera. But you don't challenge the legitimacy of an election and hold up the prospect of actual non-acceptance. And when he did that, I think it was a terrible mistake.
Krauthammer said the reason Trump's answer is "damaging" to his campaign is "because up until then I thought he was winning the debate. This was the first time and the first debate that he's won on points — on logic, on being able to make a case."
But despite Krauthammer's belief that Trump's election acceptance answer was stated out of "conviction," he said the nominee's response ultimately did him in.
"Until then I think he could have walked away with a win," he noted, "and unfortunately, as you read all these headlines, that is not how it's going to be seen."