At a certain level, Donald Trump must realize that his spirited defenses of Russian President Vladimir Putin do his campaign no favors -- but the Republican nominee just can't seem to help himself.
Earlier this week, Trump said he'd like to incorporate the Russian autocrat into his post-election presidential transition process, effectively rewarding Putin for suspected criminal efforts surrounding intervention in the American election. Last night, Trump read from the same script, pretending Russia may have had nothing to do with the recent email hacks -- ignoring his own intelligence briefings that told him the opposite -- and raving about Putin "outsmarting" U.S. leaders.
Trump also referred to the START arms agreement as "the start up," and proceeded to get every relevant detail of the policy wrong.
The result was a stunning exchange, starting with Hillary Clinton's explanation that Putin would "rather have a puppet as president of the United States."
At the very end of the first presidential debate of 2016, NBC News' Lester Holt asked the candidates whether or not they'll accept the outcome of the election, regardless of the outcome. Hillary Clinton answered first and didn't hesitate: "I support our democracy. And sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But I certainly will support the outcome of this election."
When it was the Republican's turn to answer, Donald Trump initially rambled about 800 immigrants who became U.S. citizens. Holt pressed on, asking again, "Will you accept the outcome of the election?" The GOP nominee eventually said, "The answer is, if she wins, I will absolutely support her."
Last night, in the third and final debate, Fox's Chris Wallace returned to the subject and heard a very different answer.
WALLACE: Mr. Trump, I want to ask you about one last question in this topic. You have been warning at rallies recently that this election is rigged and that Hillary Clinton is in the process of trying to steal it from you. Your running mate, Governor Pence, pledged on Sunday that he and you -- his words -- "will absolutely accept the result of this election." Today your daughter, Ivanka, said the same thing. I want to ask you here on the stage tonight: Do you make the same commitment that you will absolutely -- sir, that you will absolutely accept the result of this election?
TRUMP: I will look at it at the time. I'm not looking at anything now. I'll look at it at the time.
The Republican candidate proceeded to complain about news organizations, fraudulent voter registrations, and his belief that his opponent "shouldn't be allowed to run" for president.
Wallace, to his credit, reminded Trump of some basic American norms the candidate may not be aware of: "[T]here is a tradition in this country -- in fact, one of the prides of this country -- is the peaceful transition of power and that no matter how hard-fought a campaign is, that at the end of the campaign that the loser concedes to the winner. Not saying that you're necessarily going to be the loser or the winner, but that the loser concedes to the winner and that the country comes together in part for the good of the country. Are you saying you're not prepared now to commit to that principle?"
Trump wouldn't budge. "What I'm saying is that I will tell you at the time," he replied. "I'll keep you in suspense. OK?"
Courtney Kube, NBC News national security producer, explains the military strategy behind announcing the liberation of Mosul, Iraq, and fact-checks Donald Trump's bafflement at U.S. military strategy. watch
Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian, talks about the precedent for rejecting the outcome of a democratic election in the United States and how the nation's founders viewed the importance of the peaceful transfer of power. watch
NOTE: 2-part edited clip - Ben Ginsberg, former RNC general counsel, explains why the Republican National Committee is legally barred by consent decree from participating in the polling place activism Donald Trump is encouraging his supporters to do. watch
Hallie Jackson asks Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence about Donald Trump's position on accepting the democratic outcome of the 2016 presidential election and gets a response different from Pence's answer to Brian Williams before the debate. watch
Rachel Maddow and an MSNBC panel react to KellyAnne Conway and Rudy Giuliani, representing the Trump campaign, defending Donald Trump's reluctance to accept the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. watch
Rachel Maddow and Nicolle Wallace discuss whether Donald Trump's refusal to say that he'll accept the outcome of for presidential election will be an excuse for Republicans who are looking for a way to distance themselves from Trump's spiraling campaign. watch
Steve Schmidt, Republican strategist, reacts to the interview with Mike Pence in which the Republican vice presidential candidate denied that it is known that Russia is behind Wikileaks e-mail hacks, and stuck to Donald Trump's line on the threat of voter fraud and "rigging." watch
Brian Williams and Rachel Maddow report on a Trump campaign Facebook broadcast which some see as a peek as a potential future Trump media venture, and others see as an end-run around fact-based journalism media -or both. watch
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