Donald Trump looked more prepared for policy questions and attacks Wednesday night than he did in the first two presidential debates.
But after the final debate in Las Vegas, commentators and even Trump's fellow Republicans focused mostly on one moment. Trump repeated his assertion that he may not accept the outcome of the presidential election.
"What I'm saying is that I will tell you at the time. I'll keep you in suspense," Trump said when asked if he would accept the election results.
No presidential candidate in our history has ever done more damage to himself than Hair Furor. It's testament to our American division that 40% of the nation's electorate eats this shit up with a spoon, and the rest of us draw back in revulsion.
Even after the most substantive debate of the general election, GOP lawmakers, commentators and cable news shows focused mostly on Trump's statement about the election results. Public officials have alleged election tampering before, but not weeks ahead of the results are known, as Trump repeatedly has this week.
After the debate, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt told MSNBC that Trump won almost all of the debate but "hit himself in the head and knocked himself out" with the comment.
Former and current Republican officials also seized on the comment. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who was among the Republican presidential hopefuls during the primaries, called Trump's comments about a "rigged" election "a great disservice" to the party and the United States.
Trump's statement may appeal to his anti-establishment followers, but it was unlikely to reverse opinion polls that show him losing, including in key states that will decide the election.
"That is not the way our democracy works," Clinton said during the debate. "We've been around for 240 years. We've had free and fair elections. We've accepted the outcomes when we may not have liked them. And that is what must be expected of anyone standing on a debate stage during a general election."
Later she told reporters: "What he said tonight is part of his whole effort to blame somebody else for where he is in his campaign."
Neoconservative Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard political magazine, tweeted: "I deplore what Trump said and refused to say about accepting the election results. Confirms one's judgment he shouldn't be president."
Trump's running mate, vice presidential nominee Mike Pence, said Trump "will accept the outcome" because he is going to win.
But Republican strategist Ryan Williams found Trump's statement "deeply concerning."
"You have to accept the results of the election unless there are grounds for a recount and at this point it does not appear that we're heading for a close election," he said.
The GOP is going to have to get a divorce from itself. Irreconcilable differences.
Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona tweeted that Trump's inability to say he would accept the results is "beyond the pale." Former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele called his comments "dumb."
Many lawmakers and commentators have challenged Trump's comments about election rigging because state and local officials — many of whom are Republicans — control voting.
Trump will accept the results "absent irregularities and widespread fraud," his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway told MSNBC after the debate.
Ivanka Trump said earlier in the day that her father would 'do the right thing'. The Trump camp is having a special kind of discordant moment, and I'll assume that cooler heads within it will soothe the savage breast, but The Barking Yam has spoken. And We The People are about to silence him.
It's a good thing this election isn't close; it frees up people from voting their fears instead of their hopes. There are lots of Democrats and Republicans who will do the opposite, of course, but that's just shallow thinking. There are going to be many teachable moments coming out of 2016 that can be analyzed without the din and roar of the present clouding folks' judgement.
There was more last night about other topics, many of them with greater substance than the two previous encounters, but Trump's deflation of democracy is the only one that mattered.