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Lansing — The head of the Michigan Republican Party is defending GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s refusal to commit to accepting the outcome of the Nov. 8 election against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Trump was non-committal in Wednesday night’s debate about whether he would accept the results — win or lose. When asked by debate moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News whether he would “absolutely accept” the results of the election, Trump responded, “I will look at it at the time.”

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He broke a long tradition of candidates promising to abide by the final ballot box results.

“How can Donald Trump right now say exactly what’s going to happen after Election Day?” asked Ronna Romney McDaniel, chairwoman of the state GOP. “... I think it’s good to say, ‘Let’s just wait, let’s just wait until after the election, we want to make sure there’s no voter fraud.’”

Trump has raised the specter that the election process itself may be rigged — a controversial claim his own campaign manager has not been able to defend.

During Wednesday night’s presidential debate, the Republican nominee indicated he wasn’t prepared to concede if Clinton were to be declared the winner.

“What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time,” Trump told Wallace. “I’ll keep you in suspense. OK?”

Facing a litany of bipartisan scorn over his remarks, Trump said Thursday he would accept the results of the election — with one caveat.

“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,” Trump said at a rally in Delaware, Ohio.

McDaniel noted there was an automatic recount of the election results in Florida in 2000 after former Vice President Al Gore initially indicated he would accept the outcome as well. Gore, a Democrat, accepted defeat to Republican George W. Bush after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Gore’s request for a hand recount in three counties, ordered by Florida’s courts, was unconstitutional.

Brandon Dillon, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, said Trump’s comments were “one of the most outlandish and dangerous things he’s said” as a presidential candidate.

“To actively suggest that he would be willing to undermine that system as a major presidential candidate is not only unprecedented, it’s potentially harmful to our entire form of government and the Constitution,” Dillon said. “Now he’s engaging in a full on attack on the entire democratic form of government.”

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, a Republican, said earlier this week she has “full confidence” in the state’s decentralized election system, which relies on 1,603 municipal clerks to administer elections.

McDaniel said she has faith that Johnson will ensure the election in Michigan is fair to all sides.

“I trust our voting process here in Michigan,” McDaniel told The Detroit News. “I’m not saying we have a rigged system.”

But as evidence of possible election tampering, Michigan’s GOP leader pointed to hacked emails suggesting the Democratic National Committee worked to aid Clinton in the primaries and new revelations that Democratic operatives bragged on tape about inciting violence at a Trump rally in Chicago last spring, causing the event to be canceled.

“So there are real issues with the ethical judgment of the DNC and the Clinton campaign right now and I think that’s a question that needs to be answered,” McDaniel said.

Two Democratic operatives lost their jobs Wednesday after the publication of video investigations by conservative undercover journalist James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas Action.

Trump highlighted O’Keefe’s expose during the debate Wednesday in Las Vegas, claiming Clinton and President Barack Obama “caused the violence” at his rallies.

“They hired people — they paid them $1,500, and they’re on tape saying: Be violent, cause fights, do bad things,” he said.

Clinton did not address Trump’s accusation head on.

She instead mocked Trump for claiming the election is “rigged” in her favor, noting other times where Trump made similar accusations.

“Well, Chris, let me respond to that, because that’s horrifying,” Clinton told Wallace. “You know, every time Donald thinks things are not going in his direction, he claims whatever it is, is rigged against him.”

clivengood@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3661

Twitter: @ChadLivengood

The Associated Press contributed.

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