At times during tonight’s debate, Donald Trump seemed controlled, succinct, even prepared.
It didn’t matter. In an instant, he lost the debate and blew his chance of using it to turn around his sinking campaign.
That instant came when Trump refused to say he would respect the outcome of next month’s vote.
Barring some massive unforeseen news, that comment will dominate political conversation in the coming days. By next week, it will be all anyone remembers about tonight. And for good reason. A major party nominee suggesting he won’t concede defeat in a presidential election he has clearly lost was, until Trump came along, unthinkable. Had Al Gore taken that position in 2000, the United States might not be a functioning democracy today. If Trump’s position becomes the new normal--if future candidates refuse to respect the voters’ will--America may not remain one. Democracies require public legitimacy for their survival. When powerful actors withhold that legitimacy, the system crumbles.