Donald Trump refused to say he would accept the results of the 2016 presidential election at the third and final debate Wednesday night. He had virtually no chance to become president even before that chilling statement, but he may have cost the GOP the House and the Senate with his dog-whistling hint at challenging election results, with no reason, should he lose. Even his most ardent defenders in the political media couldn’t defend him in the post-debate scrum I watched on television. His minions may find a way to rally on Thursday, but they will never be convincing.
With his support in national and swing-state polls cratering, with down-ballot Republicans fleeing his campaign, Trump drove a huge garbage truck up to the debate and tried to dump it on front-runner Hillary Clinton. Out tumbled President Obama’s half-brother Malik, the long-ago fiancée of Libya Ambassador Chris Stevens, the stepmother of another Benghazi-attack victim, and a former GOP vice presidential nominee named Sarah Palin. No, this isn’t a nightmare I had after overeating. It really happened Wednesday night.
But none of it mattered. Trump destroyed his already faint chance at the presidency in every imaginable way. He did his best imitation of Alec Baldwin doing a Trump imitation, barking “Wrong!” at Clinton over and over. At a dramatic point when Clinton was rejecting moderator Chris Wallace’s suggestion that we need a “grand bargain” on Medicare and Social Security—with an argument progressives needed to hear in its entirety—he muttered, “She’s such a nasty woman.” It’s worth noting that neither major-party candidate endorsed Social Security cuts when asked to Wednesday night. May the Grand Bargainers please find another line of lobbying work.
About the charges by double digits of women that he had sexually assaulted them, Trump pleaded innocent, insisting, “I didn’t even apologize to my wife.” Sadly, his wife had just claimed on CNN, “I’ve accepted my husband’s apology.” (We at The Nation don’t normally cover celebrity divorces, but I have a feeling we might see a big one some time soon.) When Clinton talked about Trump insulting the looks of one of his accusers, he interjected, “I did not say that.” The Clinton campaign had video of him saying it ready within a few minutes.
To his credit, Fox News host Chris Wallace asked tough, substantive questions as moderator. Unfortunately, often Clinton stood there trying to answer them, as Trump babbled. Asked about immigration policy, Trump promised to throw “bad hombres” out of the country. (The Latino vote margin for Clinton is climbing as I write.) To a question about Supreme Court nominees, Clinton responded, “The people I would nominate would be in the real tradition of standing up to the powerful.” Trump began: “Justice Ginsberg said very, very bad things about me.” Asked about the Court’s Heller decision on gun control, Clinton tried to make clear why she opposed it, explaining that the lower court “was trying to protect toddlers from guns.” Trump jumped in: “Hillary was extremely upset, extremely angry” about the decision, he argued, sounding a little unhinged. There were a lot of moments like that.