President Trump’s angry insistence in the last minutes of Tuesday’s debate that there was no way the presidential election could be conducted without fraud amounted to an extraordinary declaration by a sitting American president that he would try to throw any outcome into the courts, Congress or the streets if he was not re-elected.
His comments came after four years of debate about the possibility of foreign interference in the 2020 election and how to counter such disruptions. But they were a stark reminder that the most direct threat to the electoral process now comes from the president of the United States himself.
His unwillingness to say he would abide by the result, and his disinformation campaign about the integrity of the American electoral system, went beyond anything President Vladimir V. Putin could have imagined. All Mr. Putin has to do now is amplify the president’s message, which the Russian leader has already begun to do.
Everything Mr. Trump said in his face-off with Joseph Biden Jr. he had already delivered in recent weeks, in tweets and rallies with his faithful. But he had never before put it all together in front of such a large audience as he did Tuesday night.