Donald Trump's comment Wednesday night that he will have to wait and see whether to accept the results of the 2016 election was shocking for a presidential candidate.
It was also a total flip-flop.
Asked by debate moderator Chris Wallace whether he would accept the election results, Trump said some version of “I will look at it at the time” repeatedly. He added: “I'll keep you in suspense, okay?”
What many didn't note on Wednesday night, though, is that Trump has actually been asked this question before — at a debate! — and offered a totally different answer.
Here's the exchange with NBC's Lester Holt from the first debate, which seems like three months ago but was actually just 25 days ago:
HOLT: Mr. Trump, very quickly, same question. Will you accept the outcome as the will of the voters?
TRUMP: I want to make America great again. We are a nation that is seriously troubled. We're losing our jobs. People are pouring into our country. The other day, we were deporting 800 people. And perhaps they passed the wrong button, they pressed the wrong button, or perhaps worse than that, it was corruption, but these people that we were going to deport for good reason ended up becoming citizens. Ended up becoming citizens. And it was 800. And now it turns out it might be 1,800, and they don't even know.
HOLT: Will you accept the outcome of the election?
It took prodding, but Trump said he would “absolutely” support Clinton as president. It was unmistakable and firm.
What has changed?
Well, Trump has been talking about the potential for voter fraud for months, so it's not as if he hadn't gone down that road before the Sept. 26 debate. He had even said, in August, that he couldn't lose Pennsylvania unless there was massive voter fraud — a preview of what he's now suggesting about the national race.
Holt asked both nominees the question, but it was clearly aimed at Trump and his rhetoric about the election being rigged.
But that debate was before the “Access Hollywood” tape, before the flood of women accusing Trump of groping or sexually assaulting them, and before his drop in the polls. Before the first debate, Trump was a bona fide contender, with most national polls showing him within a few points of Clinton. A Bloomberg News poll conducted during the four previous days even showed him up two points.
Did Trump suddenly have an epiphany over the last three-plus weeks about the system being even more rigged again him? No. He just started losing — bigly — and so he changed his mind.