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Did Trump's Speech Thursday Settle The Issue on Conceding If He Loses The Election?


At the presidential debate last night, Donald Trump would not commit to accepting the outcome of the presidential election. For a couple of weeks, he has put forth claims of a rigged election without providing any proof, and today Trump addressed that topic again.


DONALD TRUMP: I would like to promise and pledge to all of my voters and supporters and to all of the people of the United States that I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election if I win.


SIEGEL: Well, to talk about all of that and the rest of last night's debate, we're joined now by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hi, Mara.


SIEGEL: And let's start with Donald Trump. Did that speech today settle it?

LIASSON: I don't think so. That remark last night that he might not accept the results of the election contradicted what his campaign manager said and his running mate and his daughter said that he should accept the results. Today, as you heard, he walked it back a bit. He said of course he'd abide by the laws of the country, and he reserves the right to challenge the results.

And of course he has that right as any candidate does. But he did go on to say, as he has done in the past, that there is a possibility of massive voter fraud in the country. And in the past he's said the only way he can lose is if the election is stolen from him.

So he walked it back a bit, but that's still the headline. And it overshadowed some other things he did last night when he sounded like a traditional Republican candidate on abortion and guns and taxes. He was much more disciplined and focused in the debate. He does still have one inexplicable divergence from Republican orthodoxy, which is Russia. Even though he's gotten the intelligence briefings and he knows that 17 intelligence agencies say that Russian security agencies were behind the hacks of Democratic officials' emails, he still continues to take the Putin line.

SIEGEL: Well, let's take those things together - Trump going against the norm on accepting election results and going against the consensus on whether Russia hacked into American political systems. Yesterday you said that you were looking to see what Trump's strategy is. Does that give you any insight to what his strategy is?

LIASSON: Not too much, but there is one theory out there, which is, he is sticking with the strategy that has worked for him for decades and decades, which is dominate the media; make as much news as possible; keep the spotlight on yourself. Maybe, this theory goes, he is establishing himself as the alternative to everything, the alternative to the establishment, to the media, to Hillary.

If as many have been speculating he wants to start Trump TV after the election, this was a pretty good debut of someone who wants to keep the spotlight on him, and maybe this is going to be his new brand. Now, that would be a good strategy for that end, but for getting 270 electoral votes - not so much.

SIEGEL: Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, seems to be pretty confident that she's going to win the election. She is no longer just trying to win enough states to get to 270 electoral votes. She's now investing in Arizona, Missouri, Indiana, even Texas, traditionally red states. What's the idea there?

LIASSON: The idea obviously is to win as big as possible, hoping if she can to help some down-ballot Democratic candidates. Of course we don't see any evidence of a big wave developing beneath the presidential race.

She also wants to shut down any talk that he might pursue that the election was stolen from him, which will be a heck of a lot easier to do if the election is very, very close. And she also wants to get a mandate. But of course getting a mandate is not necessarily synonymous with just winning big.

SIEGEL: Well, did Hillary Clinton successfully describe last night what she would actually do as president if she were to get that mandate?

LIASSON: I don't think she did. She closed by saying she's fought all her life for women and families. That's a testimonial. That's not necessarily telling people exactly what to expect if they elect you. That's how you get a mandate - by running on a very clear, understandable agenda so when people vote for you, they know they're voting for universal health care reform or debt-free college or a tax cut and not just as the lesser of two evils.

She has done an excellent job of being the anti-Trump and disqualifying him, but she has yet to make a real positive affirmative case for herself, present a vision, why she wants to be president and what she's going to do. And maybe she'll do that in the closing weeks.

SIEGEL: OK. That's NPR's Mara Liasson in Las Vegas. Mara, thanks.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.

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