As Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton concluded their third and final televised confrontation Wednesday night, three past presidential candidates generally agreed the Republican nominee hurt himself with his refusal to say outright he would accept the election outcome.
But, at the same time, none of the three was willing to call Clinton a sure winner in the Las Vegas debate or the election next month.
"Trump was making a pretty good case for a conservative president until he said he was going to keep us in suspense about recognizing the legitimacy of the vote," former Sen. Bob Kerrey, D.-Neb., told Newsmax.
Kerry, one of the leading opponents to Bill Clinton for the Democratic nomination in 1992, predicted "this will eclipse everything else. Trump's closing statement was awful as well."
Recalling his own record as an "entitlement hawk" who called for reforms of social security, medicare, and medicaid, the former senator and governor added "the answers of both candidates on entitlements were terrible."
Tim Pawlenty, former two-term governor of Nebraska and candidate for the 2012 Republican nomination, called the third Trump-Clinton clash "the best attempt at a substantive debate so far."
"It seemed like a draw, except Trump likely hurt himself with swing voters by not agreeing to accept election results and by making too many personal attacks during the second half of debate," said Pawlenty, who was reportedly the runner-up to Sarah Palin to be John McCain's running mate in 2008.
Trying to look beyond Trump's controversial statement about the election outcome, Wisconsin's former four-term GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson told us: "Tonight began Donald Trump's effort to address two key closing components of his campaign to earn the trust of the electorate: his plan to deliver positive change; and a commitment to consistently deliver a message of change."
Thompson, a candidate for the GOP nomination in 2008, said he felt "Trump's debate performance tonight effectively communicated the positive change we can expect with his leadership – whether it be economic, national security or healthcare – he clearly defined what the American people can expect from him in the White House."
But, in a clear reference to the "election outcome" comment, Thompson warned "the real challenge remains, with less than three weeks until the election, whether Donald Trump commit to effectively delivering a disciplined message of change to close out this race?
"If he can remain disciplined during these closing weeks in delivering a message of change, the majority of the voters in this country that doesn't trust Hillary Clinton may be provided reason to vote."
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