Las Vegas - Republican candidate Donald Trump on Wednesday suggested he might reject the outcome of the November 8 US presidential election if he loses, a possibility his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton called “horrifying”.
In their third and final presidential debate, Trump said he would wait to decide whether the outcome was legitimate.
“I will tell you at the time, I will keep you in suspense,” Trump said.
“Let's be clear about what he is saying and what that means: He is denigrating, he is talking down our democracy and I for one am appalled that someone who is the nominee for one of our two major parties would take that position,” she said.
She said Trump, a former reality TV star, had in the past also complained that his show was unjustly denied a US television Emmy award.
In a fiery debate that centred more on policy than the earlier showdowns, Trump accused Clinton's campaign of orchestrating a series of accusations by women who said the businessman made unwanted sexual advances.
Trump said all of the stories were “totally false” and suggested Clinton was behind the charges. He called her campaign “sleazy” and said: “Nobody has more respect for women than I do, nobody.”
Clinton said the women came forward after Trump said in the last debate he had never made unwanted advances on women. In a 2005 video, Trump was recorded bragging about groping women against their will.
“Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger. He goes after their dignity, their self-worth and I don't think there is a woman anywhere who doesn't know what that feels like,” said Clinton, the first woman to win the nomination of a major US political party.
“This is a pattern. A pattern of divisiveness, of a very dark and in many ways dangerous vision of our country where he incites violence, where he applauds people who are pushing and pulling and punching at his rallies. That is not who America is,” she said.
Trump entered the debate hoping to reverse his fading momentum in an election that opinion polls show is tilting away from him. The New York businessman has raised concerns by claiming the election will be rigged against him, and has urged supporters to patrol polling places in inner cities to prevent voter fraud.
The two presidential rivals had a tough but issues-based exchanges on abortion, gun rights and immigration during the 90-minute showdown, but occasionally reacted angrily.
Clinton said she would raise taxes on the wealthy to help fund the US government's Social Security retirement programme, but suggested Trump might try to find a way out of paying the higher taxes.
Trump, 70, and Clinton, 68, battled sharply over the influence of Vladimir Putin, with Clinton calling Trump the Russian president's puppet and Trump charging Putin had repeatedly outsmarted Clinton.
Clinton said Trump had refused to condemn Putin and Russia for recent cyber attacks.
“He'd rather believe Vladimir Putin than the military and civilian intelligence officials that are sworn to protect us,” Clinton said.
US intelligence agencies and the Department of Homeland Security have said the Russian leadership was responsible for recent cyber attacks on the Democratic National Committee and the leaking of stolen emails.
Trump rejected the idea that he was close with Putin, but suggested he would have a better relationship with Russia's leader than Clinton.
“He said nice things about me,” Trump said. “He has no respect for her, he has no respect for our president and I'll tell you what, we're in very serious trouble.”
Clinton responded: “Well that's because he'd rather have a puppet as president of the United States.”
“No, you're the puppet,” Trump said. “Putin has outsmarted her and Obama every single step of the way,” he said in a reference to US President Barack Obama, a Democrat like Clinton.
Clinton also said Trump had been “cavalier” about nuclear weapons and should not be trusted with the nuclear codes.
Clinton promised to appoint justices to the US Supreme Court who would uphold a woman's right to abortion laid out in the court's 1973 Roe vs Wade decision, while Trump promised to appoint what he called “pro-life” justices who would overturn the decision.
Under existing law, Trump said: “You can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby.”
“Honestly, nobody has business doing what I just said, doing that as late as one or two or three or four days prior to birth,” Trump said.
“This is one of the worst possible choices that any woman and her family has to make and I do not believe the government should be making it,” Clinton said.
Trump said he would appoint a Supreme Court justice who would protect American gun rights.
He has said in the past that Clinton wants to “essentially abolish” the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing a right to bear arms.
Clinton said she supports gun rights, but wants additional regulations on guns, citing examples of children being hurt or killed in gun accidents. “I see no conflict between saving people's lives and defending the Second Amendment.”
Clinton and Trump walked straight to their podiums when they were introduced at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, once again forgoing the traditional handshake as they did at the second debate last week in St Louis, Missouri. This time they did not shake hands at the end of the debate, either.
The debate gave Trump, making his first run for elected office, perhaps his best remaining chance to sway the dwindling number of Americans who are still undecided about their vote.
Clinton, a former secretary of state, US senator and first lady, leads in national polls and in most of the battleground states where the election will likely be decided. The debate was her opportunity to make a closing argument on why she is best suited to succeed Obama.
Clinton has struggled to get past concerns about transparency raised over her use of a private email server for work communications while she was secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.
The two candidates clashed over accusations that Clinton as secretary of state did favours for high-dollar donors to her family's Clinton Foundation. Asked about a potential conflict of interest, she said she acted “in furtherance of our country's values and interests”.
She and Trump talked over each other, Clinton defending her ties to the foundation, saying “there is no evidence” of a conflict, while Trump said the foundation should return millions of dollars to countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar who treat gay people harshly.
Clinton said she would be happy to compare the Clinton Foundation to Trump's charitable Trump Foundation, which among its activities was to buy “a six-foot statue of Donald”.