Trump erupts in third de­bate

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Dana Mil­bank

— In the mid­dle of the Strip, a few blocks from the hulk­ing Trump In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel, the fa­mous Mi­rage Vol­cano has been de­light­ing tourists for 27 years with its faux erup­tions, spew­ing fire, smoke and wa­ter 100 feet into the air.

A small sign at the vol­cano’s base an­nounces, “Vol­cano show erup­tions Sun­day through Thurs­day, 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.”

But there were a se­ries of ad­di­tional erup­tions in Las Ve­gas on Wed­nes­day night at the third and fi­nal pres­i­den­tial de­bate here. Don­ald Trump erupted at 6:30 p.m. lo­cal time. And 6:34. And 6:48. And 6:52. And 6:54. And then, at 7:06, the crater blew off, leav­ing a gap­ing caldera where Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign once stood.

Fox News’s Chris Wal­lace, the mod­er­a­tor, asked Trump whether he would “ab­so­lutely ac­cept the re­sult of this elec­tion.”

“I will look at it at the time,” Trump said, sug­gest­ing that “what I’ve seen is so bad” in terms of cor­rup­tion.

“But sir,” Wal­lace per­sisted, ad­mirably re­mind­ing Trump that “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.” Wal­lace asked again: “Are you say­ing you’re not pre­pared now to com­mit to that prin­ci­ple?”

“I will tell you at the time,” Trump replied. “I’ll keep you in sus­pense, OK?”

Sus­pense? The re­fusal to ac­cept this bedrock prin­ci­ple of democ­racy was shock­ing, even for a can­di­date who had told au­di­ences about a “rigged” and “stolen” elec­tion. And it should pour hot lava on any no­tion that Trump is go­ing to re­vive his can­di­dacy in the fi­nal 20 days.

Iron­i­cally, Trump had tried to keep his magma cool — and he suc­ceeded for the first half-hour of the de­bate. Wal­lace kept the fo­cus firmly on pol­icy, and Trump and Hil­lary Clin­ton gave the vot­ers a lot of what they’ve asked for dur­ing the cam­paign: talk about the Se­cond Amend­ment, abor­tion pol­icy, im­mi­gra­tion, nu­clear weapons.

But grad­u­ally, with Clin­ton’s bait­ing, Trump be­gan to rum­ble.

On Clin­ton’s ac­cu­sa­tion that he’s Vladimir Putin’s pup­pet: “No pup­pet. No pup­pet. You’re the pup­pet!”

On Clin­ton gen­er­ally: “She’s been proven to be a liar in so many dif­fer­ent ways, this is just an­other lie.”

Grad­u­ally, the in­ter­rup­tions in­creased. “Wrong!” he said when Clin­ton jus­ti­fi­ably said he had been cav­a­lier about nu­clear weapons. “Wrong!” he said when Clin­ton cor­rectly noted that he mocked a dis­abled reporter. When Clin­ton tried to “trans­late” some­thing Trump had said, he blurted out: “You can’t!” When Wal­lace asked a tough ques­tion, Trump in­ter­rupted to pro­nounce the mod­er­a­tor “cor­rect.”

But it was when the topic turned to his treat­ment of women that Trump truly be­gan to spew molten rock.

“Give me a break!” Trump in­ter­jected when Clin­ton men­tioned, cor­rectly, that he had called for­mer Miss Uni­verse Ali­cia Machado “an eat­ing ma­chine.”

He said the nine women who ac­cused him of sex­ual mis­con­duct were spout­ing “lies” and “fic­tion” and try­ing to get “their 10 min­utes of fame.”

He said, with­out ev­i­dence, that the ac­cusers were prob­a­bly brought out by Clin­ton “and her sleazy cam­paign.” De­clared Trump, “I didn’t even apol­o­gize to my wife, who’s sit­ting right here, be­cause I didn’t do any­thing.”

Trump needed to change the race in a big way Wed­nes­day night. Clin­ton leads Trump na­tion­ally by an av­er­age of seven points in polls, and The Wash­ing­ton Post’s sur­veys of 15 bat­tle­ground states show Clin­ton with a sig­nif­i­cant lead in states that to­gether add up to 304 elec­toral votes, to Trump’s 138. Ed Rollins, the head of the pro-Trump Great Amer­ica super PAC, told con­ser­va­tive ra­dio host Laura In­gra­ham that it “would take a mir­a­cle at this point” for Trump to win the elec­tion.

If he is to have any hope of win­ning, Trump needs to ex­pand his ap­peal to a broader swath of the elec­torate. But Trump, rather than tak­ing the race in a new di­rec­tion, de­cided to do what he’s done be­fore when his back is to the wall: lash out with fury.

He set the tone for the last de­bate by invit­ing Pres­i­dent Obama’s half brother, a Trump backer, to the de­bate, along with the mother who ac­cuses Clin­ton of mur­der­ing her son in Beng­hazi and a woman who just ac­cused Bill Clin­ton of sex­ual as­sault.

At first — and prob­a­bly be­cause Wal­lace chose to be­gin the de­bate with sub­stan­tive is­sues of pol­icy — Trump was un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally mild, even as Hil­lary Clin­ton tried to nee­dle him. Clin­ton noted that “when I was in the Sit­u­a­tion Room, mon­i­tor­ing the raid that brought Osama bin Laden to jus­tice, he was host­ing the ‘ Celebrity Ap­pren­tice.’” When Trump men­tioned that he was stay­ing at his “beau­ti­ful ho­tel” in Las Ve­gas, the Trump In­ter­na­tional, Clin­ton shot back: “Made with Chi­nese steel.”

Clin­ton mocked Trump’s char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion for buy­ing a “six-foot por­trait of Don­ald. I mean, who does that?”

Clin­ton grad­u­ally got un­der Trump’s skin, and he re­turned to his bom­bas­tic form: “She’s lied hun­dreds of times. .?.?. Her crooked cam­paign. .?.?. She caused the vi­o­lence.”

“Such a nasty woman!” Trump blurted out in the wan­ing mo­ments of the de­bate.

But Trump did noth­ing to re­duce the like­li­hood that this “nasty woman” will beat him on Nov. 8 — whether or not he ac­cepts the re­sults.

Dana Mil­bank is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at danamil­bank@wash­post.com.

LAS VE­GAS

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