Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump further extended his campaign narrative that the election process is rigged against him by refusing at Wednesday's final debate to say that he will accept the results of the November 8 vote. "I will look at it at the time," Trump said. He added that he believes the media has "poisoned" the minds of voters against him and that his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, should never have been allowed to run.
Richard Herrera, an associate professor at Arizona State University's School of Politics and Global Studies, said Trump's statement is "unprecedented" for a major party nominee and could be a turnoff for voters who are still undecided. "That’s questioning the legitimacy of our own political system, which I don’t think people buy into," Herrera told VOA. "They may not like government so much, and trust in government is low at this point, but they don’t really question that when they vote it’s not going to matter.”
After the debate, Clinton called Trump's refusal an effort to "blame someone else for where he is in the campaign." One of the most contentious sections of the debate featured Trump and Clinton sparring over Russia's espionage activities and accusations they are working to help Trump's campaign.
"They have hacked American websites, American accounts of private people, of institutions, then they have given the information to WikiLeaks for the purpose of putting on the internet," Clinton said. "This has come from the highest levels of the Russian government, clearly from [President Vladimir] Putin himself, in an effort, as 17 of our intelligence agencies have confirmed, to influence our election."
Trump said he does not know Putin and reiterated his stance that better U.S.-Russian relations would be good. He added that Putin has "no respect" for Clinton or President Barack Obama.
Herrera said there is a long history of Americans being wary of Russia and that there remains an uncomfortable feeling about being too friendly with the Russians. He said Trump is not likely to gain support by saying the source of the hacks remains unknown and suggesting such cyber attacks against Clinton would be a good thing.
Shirley Warshaw, a professor of political science at Gettysburg College, said Clinton has been annoyed by the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails and those from her own campaign, and that if Republicans had instead been the victims "they would be beside themselves."
“The United States government has said very clearly that this was done by a foreign power, particularly the Russians, and Mr. Trump denied it," she told VOA.
"This is campaign rhetoric that they’ve both been out on the campaign trail saying it over and over again, and essentially what both of them had was the same stump speech that they’ve been giving day in and day out," she said. "If you took each of them off the debate they could easily have been giving a speech somewhere."
Trump called Clinton's tax plan a "disaster" that would potentially double people's taxes, while she said he would add to the national debt by advocating for the largest tax cuts the country has ever seen. On the Supreme Court, Clinton said she would appoint judges who protect marriage equality and a woman's right to an abortion, while Trump said he wants judges who would overturn abortion rights and protect those involving guns.
"On the day when I was in the Situation Room, monitoring the raid that brought Osama bin Laden to justice, he was hosting the Celebrity Apprentice," Clinton said. Trump, during his response, said, "I say the one thing you have over me is experience, but it's bad experience because what you've done has turned out badly."
"All she had to do was stay there, now we're going in to get it," Trump said. He added that Iraqi neighbor Iran would be the beneficiary if Mosul is recaptured. Clinton said she is encouraged by the Mosul offensive, which includes some U.S. military advisors, but that she does not support deploying U.S. soldiers to Iraq as an occupying force.
The fight against Islamic State extends into Syria, which has also been engulfed in a civil war for more than five years. Clinton said Syria will be a "hotbed of terrorism" as long as there is a civil war aided by Iran and Russia, and reiterated her calls for measures to protect Syrian civilians.
"I'm going to continue to push for a no-fly zone and safe havens within Syria, not only to help protect the Syrians and prevent the constant outflow of refugees, but to frankly gain some leverage on the Syrian government and the Russians so that perhaps we can have the kind of serious negotiation necessary to bring the conflict to an end and go forward on a political track," she said.
Trump further criticized U.S. support for rebels who oppose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying the U.S. does not know who they are. "When and if -- and it's not going to happen because you have Russia and you have Iran -- but if they ever did overthrow Assad, you might end up with, as bad as Assad is, and he's a bad guy, but you may very well end up with worse than Assad," he said.
On immigration, Clinton said she supports offering a path to citizenship for those who are currently in the country illegally and would prioritize enforcement action against those who commit crimes.
Trump called Clinton's policies amnesty and said they are unfair to those who are waiting to gain entry through legal means. "We have millions of people that did it the right way," he said. "They're on line, they're waiting."
Trump has also stated a priority of going after criminals for deportation, but Clinton criticized his statements during the campaign that anyone who is in the United States illegally would be subject to deportation. "I think that's an idea that is not in keeping with who we are as a nation," Clinton said. "I think it's an idea that would rip our country apart."