Even after the most substantive debate of the general election, GOP lawmakers, commentators and cable news shows focused mostly on Trump's statement about the election results. Public officials have alleged election tampering before, but not weeks ahead of the results are known, as Trump repeatedly has this week.
After the debate, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt told MSNBC that Trump won almost all of the debate but "hit himself in the head and knocked himself out" with the comment.
Former and current Republican officials also seized on the comment. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who was among the Republican presidential hopefuls during the primaries, called Trump's comments about a "rigged" election "a great disservice" to the party and the United States.
Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona tweeted that Trump's inability to say he would accept the results is "beyond the pale." Former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele called his comments "dumb."
Many lawmakers and commentators have challenged Trump's comments about election rigging because state and local officials — many of whom are Republicans — control voting.
Trump will accept the results "absent irregularities and widespread fraud," his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway told MSNBC after the debate.
Trump started out the debate by making a strong pitch to conservatives during a question about the Supreme Court, immediately saying he would appoint judges who would protect the right to bear arms. He seemed more prepared for Hillary Clinton's attacks and more frequently pressed her for failing to accomplish policy goals during her time as a public servant.
But most of the post-debate talk focused on Trump's comment about accepting the election.
Clinton did have some strong moments. She said Trump was "talking down our democracy," hitting him for claiming a conspiracy was against him several times during the campaign.