Trump needed de­bate re­set, in­stead riles GOP

Don­ald Trump needed a game changer. In­stead, he landed a jaw drop­per. When the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee for pres­i­dent re­fused to say he would accept the re­sults of the elec­tion, he rat­tled Amer­i­can democ­racy and openly flirted with the no­tion of a con­tested tra

Malta Independent - - ANALYSIS - Kath­leen Hen­nessey Kath­leen Hen­nessey

He over­shad­owed an oth­er­wise im­proved de­bate per­for­mance. And, with an al­most flip, five-word sen­tence, he cre­ated a headache for ev­ery Repub­li­can run­ning for re­elec­tion who will be asked again and again to ei­ther de­fend or re­ject their nom­i­nee.

“I’ll keep you in sus­pense,” Trump said, when asked at Wed­nes­day night’s third and fi­nal de­bate if he would vow to accept the re­sults.

It was a mo­ment that could have been ex­pected but was stun­ning nonethe­less.

Trump has been rail­ing for weeks about a “rigged” sys­tem tilted to favour Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton. As he slips fur­ther be­hind Clin­ton in the polls, Trump has al­ter­nately blamed, with no ev­i­dence, a cor­rupt me­dia, fraud at the polls and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials try­ing to pro­tect his ri­val.

The rhetoric has vexed a GOP al­ready riven by his can­di­dacy and fret­ting about its fu­ture. Be­fore the de­bate, Trump’s vice pres­i­den­tial run­ning mate, his cam­paign man­ager and his daugh­ter all had said he would accept the elec­tion re­sults. His ef­fort to stir doubts about the out­come drew con­dem­na­tion from Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, who called it “un­prece­dented.”

But un­der the bright lights of prime time, Trump showed he will not be clipped by crit­i­cism or con­ven­tion from any cor­ner. As he has through­out the cam­paign, Trump chose to chan­nel the sort of loose talk and frus­tra­tion of dis­af­fected Amer­i­cans, con­se­quences aside.

“She shouldn’t be al­lowed to run. It’s crooked - she’s guilty of a very, very se­ri­ous crime. She should not be al­lowed to run,” Trump said, of his ri­val, point­ing to no crime.

Clin­ton called Trump’s re­sponse “hor­ri­fy­ing.”

“That is not the way our democ­racy works. We’ve been around for 240 years,” she said. “We’ve had free and fair elec­tions. We’ve ac­cepted the out­comes when we may not have liked them. And that is what must be ex­pected of any­one stand­ing on a de­bate stage dur­ing a gen­eral elec­tion.”

Trump’s cam­paign and al­lies quickly tried to cast his com­ments as no dif­fer­ent than Vice Pres­i­dent Al Gore wait­ing to con­cede his de­feat in the 2000 elec­tion un­til De­cem­ber, af­ter a Supreme Court de­ci­sion and the re­count in Florida.

But Trump made no ex­cep­tion for such ex­tra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stances.

Other Repub­li­cans quickly be­moaned the com­ment: “He should have said he would accept the re­sults of the elec­tion. There is no other op­tion un­less we’re in a re­count again,” tweeted con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tor Laura In­gra­ham.

Bar­ring an un­ex­pected im­plo­sion, Clin­ton walked into the de­bate on track to win 270 elec­toral votes - and then some.

Trump ar­rived need­ing a per­for­mance that would sta­bilise his cam­paign - if not for his own prospects, but for the good of his party.

In re­cent weeks, Se­nate races in Ne­vada, Florida, New Hamp­shire and Mis­souri ap­pear to have tight­ened. Repub­li­can in­cum­bents in Pennsylvania and North Carolina are fight­ing for their po­lit­i­cal lives in states where Clin­ton ap­pears to be pulling ahead.

Repub­li­cans hoped he would prove he was se­ri­ous about try­ing to win as many votes as pos­si­ble in the most im­por­tant places - and not, as some of his rhetoric about the “rigged” elec­tion in­di­cates, merely try­ing to spin his im­pend­ing loss.

For an hour, Trump showed he was se­ri­ous. He and Clin­ton con­ducted largely sub­stan­tive and fo­cused pol­icy de­bate on is­sues that have re­ceived short shrift in pre­vi­ous face offs, in­clud­ing abor­tion, gun con­trol and im­mi­gra­tion.

The Repub­li­can busi­ness­man ef­fec­tively branded Clin­ton with 30 years of “bad ex­pe­ri­ence” and raised, for the first time in a de­bate, the hacked emails that have il­lus­trated a gap be­tween her pri­vate and pub­lic po­si­tions, par­tic­u­larly on Wall Street banks and trade.

But Clin­ton’s prepa­ra­tion and skill at the podium also showed through. She ef­fec­tively man­aged to dodge a ques­tion about her sup­port for free trade, in­stead draw­ing Trump into sharp ex­change over Russia’s role in the hack and al­leged med­dling in the elec­tion.

When mod­er­a­tor Chris Wallace asked the can­di­dates about al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual harassment and as­sault - in Clin­ton’s case, al­le­ga­tions against her hus­band - Clin­ton used the mo­ment to stand up for women, vot­ers Trump has strug­gled to win, while ig­nor­ing the ques­tion of Bill Clin­ton’s in­fi­deli­ties.

“Don­ald thinks belit­tling women makes him big­ger. He goes af­ter their dig­nity, their self­worth, and I don’t think there is a woman any­where who doesn’t know what that feels like,” she said.

The reemer­gence of sex­ual as­sault and mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions proved to be turn­ing point in the night. Trump con­tin­ued to is­sue flat, broad de­nials, but from that mo­ment on be­came in­creas­ingly ag­i­tated as the con­ver­sa­tion moved on to is­sues like So­cial Se­cu­rity.

“Such a nasty woman,” he blurted, in a re­mark that on any other night may have stood out for its caus­tic tone.

But on Wed­nes­day it was only the sec­ond most mem­o­rable com­ment of the night.

That is not the way our democ­racy works. We’ve been around for 240 years. We’ve had free and fair elec­tions. We’ve ac­cepted the out­comes when we may not have liked them. And that is what must be ex­pected of any­one stand­ing on a de­bate stage dur­ing a gen­eral elec­tion.

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