OCTOBER 20, 2016
At Wednesday night’s final Presidential Debate from UNLV in Las Vegas, Donald Trump effectively disqualified himself from becoming President.
It was particularly shocking because, for the first half-hour at least, Trump came across as an average, almost- reserved Republican candidate. The eyerolls and sniffles from the first two debates were completely gone.
One wondered how long Trump could possibly keep this facade up, but he managed to make it throughout the entire first section of the debate, which centered on the Supreme Court. He, of course, promised to appoint judges who would overturn the Court’s Roe v. Wade abortion ruling, and to any pro-choice voter, his answers were appalling, particularly an overly graphic description of a late-term abortion. It probably did not win Trump any new votes from women, but it was likely music to the ears of any conservative down-ballot Republican congressman who could finally agree with Trump on something.
Trump’s composure held steady through Hillary Clinton’s first bait attempt, as she cited Trump’s big talk about building a wall and having Mexico pay for it, but when Trump had the chance to confront the Mexican President, he “choked.” Trump looked annoyed but kept his cool.
Her second attempt to bait Trump hit pay dirt, however, when the subject of e-mail hacking by the Russians came up, and when Trump alleged that Vladimir Putin had no respect for Clinton, she shot back with “Well, that’s because he’d rather have a puppet as President of the United States.” Trump’s third-grade response was “No puppet. No puppet. You’re the puppet. No, you’re the puppet.” Good one, Donald.
Suddenly the sniffling came back. And it all went downhill from there.
Then came the moment that ended it all. Here’s the exact transcript of moderator Chris Wallace’s questions to Trump:
WALLACE: “Your running mate, Governor Pence, pledged on Sunday that he and you — his words — ‘will absolutely accept the result of this election.’ Today your daughter, Ivanka, said the same thing. I want to ask you here on the stage tonight: Do you make the same commitment that you will absolutely — sir, that you will absolutely accept the result of this election?”
Throughout the entire history of the United States, there has only been one correct answer to that question, and that answer is “Yes.”
It was not Trump’s answer.
TRUMP: “I will look at it at the time. I’m not looking at anything now. I’ll look at it at the time.”
According a number of reporters present, there was an audible gasp at Trump’s answer from the audience in the hall. And, I imagine, among the viewers at home.
Wallace, aware of the enormous political ramifications of that answer, tried to throw Trump a lifeline.
WALLACE: “But, sir, there is a tradition in this country — in fact, one of the prides of this country — is the peaceful transition of power and that no matter how hard-fought a campaign is, that at the end of the campaign that the loser concedes to the winner. Not saying that you’re necessarily going to be the loser or the winner, but that the loser concedes to the winner and that the country comes together in part for the good of the country. Are you saying you’re not prepared now to commit to that principle?”
But Trump dug the hole deeper.
TRUMP: “What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense. OK?”
“I’ll keep you in suspense????” What’s he planning, a pay-per-view of his concession speech?
This moment is a nightmarish development for mainstream Republicans, coming just 19 days before the election. Starting Thursday every GOP candidate running for office this year will be asked whether they stand for the peaceful transition of power or they stand with their party’s Presidential nominee. It couldn’t happen to a nicer party.
But things got even worse for Trump. His answer to the current fighting in Mosul was gobbledygook, he referred to undocumented workers as “bad hombres” (nice touch of racism there, Don) and Trump appeared to be doing a bad Alec Baldwin impression when Clinton’s list of his international positions was met with “Wrong.” “Wrong.” “Wrong.” (Baldwin is going to have a field day this weekend on “SNL.”)
Clinton provided the cherry on top when, talking about funding Social Security by raising taxes on the rich, zinged him with “My Social Security payroll contribution will go up, as will Donald’s, assuming he can’t figure out how to get out of it.”
Trump was pissed, calling Clinton “Such a nasty woman,” which will really attract the female voters he needs.
Clinton did not get off scot-free. Wallace cited a paid speech she gave to Brazilian bankers calling for “open borders,” an immigration stance that is anathema to Trump and against which he has argued forcefully. Clinton countered weakly but decided to add a bit more Putin bait. Trump appeared to be ready to pounce on her “open borders,” but instead he took the Putin bait and never got around to what could have been a devastating attack on Clinton. Sometimes it just helps to be lucky.
And that was it, the last time that these two will face each other on a stage before the election. With Clinton increasing her lead in national polls and even putting several deep-red Republican states (such as Arizona and Georgia) suddenly into play, all she needed to do was not make a major mistake, and she accomplished that. Trump, his national poll numbers sinking, desperately needed a memorable debate, and he accomplished that as well. Only not in the memorable way that he needed.
Election Day is Tuesday, November 8. Be there or be square!