Donald Trump seems to think that a presidential election is like the season finale of The Apprentice–always leave ’em hanging. He’s about to find out just how wrong he is.
For about the first thirty minutes of the debate, Trump was as disciplined as he can be (which isn’t much). And then the real Donald emerged, and in one critical moment, he committed political suicide.
“I will look at it at the time. I’m not looking at anything now, I will look at it at the time.” That was Trump’s response to the question of whether he will accept the results of the election.
There were plenty of other Trump disasters–refusing to acknowledge that Russia hacked Democratic emails, calling Clinton a “nasty woman” with no frame of reference, condemning “bad hombres.”
But nothing compares to his refusal to say he will accept the results of the election. Moderator Chris Wallace all but led Trump to say the right thing by talking about “one of the prides of this country… the peaceful transition of power.” Trump refused to bite.
Whether Trump realized it or not, but he set himself up for universal condemnation. Reporters are already proclaiming this “an extraordinary departure from a fundamental principle of American democracy.” His comments are guaranteed to dominate the headlines for days to come. If he thought the media was against him before, wait until he sees coverage over the next week.
Moreover, every Republican candidate is now going to be asked whether he or she will accept the election results. As if it wasn’t bad enough to have to respond to Trump’s Access Hollywood tape, now they have to go on record to say that they support our democratic norms because the man at the top of the ticket does not. Faced with the fallout Trump’s remarks may have on their own races, Republicans will issue endless statements condemning the comments (but probably still keep their endorsements of Trump).
Trump probably thought he was appealing to his base. But he may just end up finding out how small his base is. He has been in polling free fall since the first debate, and now he is likely to see his decline accelerate.
Clinton had some sticky moments in the debate as well as some fine ones. Her response to the question of whether the Clinton Foundation granted special status to donors was clumsy. Fortunately, Trump kept interrupting Clinton, saving her from her own answers. In general, though, Clinton showed herself to be steady, calm and knowledgeable–everything Trump was not.
As an interesting aside, both candidates did get a word in edgewise about our issues. Clinton promised to appoint a marriage equality supporter to the Supreme Court. Trump thinks it’s terrible that the Clinton Foundation took money from “people that push gays off buildings.” Of course, he didn’t say what he’d do about it.
With 20 days to go, there was little chance that Trump could turn the election around. But tonight he did something even more extraordinary. He broke a compact that the nation has held in trust for centuries. He’s about to find out just how expensive a blunder that was.