Trump’s solid de­bate per­for­mance dis­ap­pears in an in­stant

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - By­ron York Colum­nist By­ron York is chief po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent for The Wash­ing­ton Ex­am­iner.

Stand­ing in a gar­ish ho­tel lobby, casino mu­sic pound­ing, a Repub­li­can who has worked hard to help Donald Trump couldn’t quite be­lieve how the fi­nal pres­i­den­tial de­bate had ended just a cou­ple of hours ear­lier.

“He had a home run go­ing -- a home run -- and then he pissed it away in ten sec­onds,” the per­son said. “Could he just try to win?”

The Repub­li­can was re­fer­ring, of course, to Trump’s re­fusal to prom­ise that he will abide by the re­sults of the elec­tion, should he lose. “I will look at it at the time,” Trump said. “I will keep you in sus­pense.”

It seemed a crazy an­swer for a num­ber of rea­sons, not least of which was that in the first de­bate, when Trump was asked, “Will you ac­cept the out­come of the elec­tion?” he an­swered, “If (Hil­lary Clin­ton) wins, I will ab­so­lutely sup­port her.” Then, Wed­nes­day night, for rea­sons un­known, Trump said some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent.

His com­ments elec­tri­fied the press, re­sult­ing in fu­ri­ous ques­tion­ing of Trump surrogates, who flatly con­tra­dicted their candidate and said that yes, Trump will ac­cept elec­tion re­sults. There were ban­ner head­lines. Trump’s re­marks -- those few sec­onds -- be­came vir­tu­ally the only story of the evening.

A few miles away, on the Ve­gas Strip, 26 un­com­mit­ted Ne­vada vot­ers were watch­ing the de­bate with the Repub­li­can con­sul­tant Frank Luntz. Although their minds weren’t fully made up, when Luntz pressed them on how they leaned, nine tilted to­ward Trump, eight to­ward Clin­ton, and nine were truly un­com­mit­ted. They had been given di­als on which to reg­is­ter their re­ac­tion to ev­ery­thing the can­di­dates said in real time. The di­als con­trolled three lines on a screen, one each rep­re­sent­ing the Clin­ton and Trump lean­ers and the un­de­cided.

Un­like in the me­dia room at the de­bate site, Trump’s willyou-ac­cept-the-re­sults-of-the­elec­tion an­swer was not a bombshell in the fo­cus group. When Trump be­gan to an­swer, the line rep­re­sent­ing his lean­ers ac­tu­ally went up a bit. The line for un­de­cided vot­ers went down a bit, but quickly moved above the neu­tral line into pos­i­tive ter­ri­tory. Even the line rep­re­sent­ing Clin­ton lean­ers wasn’t very low, just be­low the neu­tral line. No lines plunged. It did not seem as if the mo­ment had re­ally reg­is­tered.

A short time later, all the lines rose -- Clin­ton, Trump, and un­de­cided --in a pos­i­tive re­sponse to Clin­ton’s dec­la­ra­tion that pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates must ac­cept the out­come of a free and fair elec­tion.

Ques­tioned af­ter­ward, a few mem­bers of the fo­cus group de­fended Trump. “It should be per­fectly ac­cept­able for him to say he’ll make that de­ci­sion when the time comes,” ar­gued one man.

But oth­ers, even some who leaned to­ward Trump, didn’t like what they heard. “It makes me very frus­trated,” said one woman, “be­cause he should say yes.”

Trump had a few real loser lines, too. For ex­am­ple, when he said, “No­body has more re­spect for women than I do,” all three lines, in­clud­ing his lean­ers, plunged. No­body was buy­ing that one.

But in gen­eral, Trump had a good night, a solid per­for­mance. When Luntz asked who won, the de­ci­sion was Trump 14, Clin­ton 12. That might as well be a tie, but it was cer­tainly an in­di­ca­tion that Trump had at least as good a night as Clin­ton.

Un­til the ques­tion about the re­sults of the elec­tion.

Per­haps Trump’s per­for­mance in the rest of the de­bate wasn’t quite the home run the Repub­li­can in the ho­tel lobby said. But it was good, and Trump was headed to­ward his best de­bate of the cam­paign -- un­til those few sec­onds that turned the night com­pletely around.

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