About 40 minutes into Wednesday night's debate at UNLV, Donald Trump looked to be on the way to his first clearly successful debate performance. He wasn’t interrupting, he didn’t sniffle, he stayed on message and appeared well prepared. Wrong!
Then Fox’s Chris Wallace, who was the most composed and effective of the presidential debate moderators, brought up Donald Trump’s recent assertions that the election is being rigged in favor of Hillary Clinton. He raised the question of whether the GOP nominee would accept the results of the vote.
“Do you make the same commitment [as your running mate and daughter] that you will absolutely accept the result of this election?”
Trump’s response, as Van Jones put it, made history.
“I will look at it at the time,” began Trump, clearly unable to let go of his inner TV personality, hell bent on the dramatic. He continued in a back and forth with Wallace, until he was directly asked: "Are you saying you’re not prepared now to commit to that principle [of a peaceful transfer of power]?”
“What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense. OK?”
What Donald Trump doesn’t seem to understand, or more likely he just doesn’t care, is that he is viscerally damaging our country’s democracy by questioning the integrity of 50 individual and independent elections offices throughout the nation.
He has millions of adamant supporters who fiercely agree with his portrayal of the political and media elite. If he actually refuses to accept a loss on November 8, the fallout could be disastrous.
A Clinton presidency looks increasingly likely, particularly in light last night’s debate. Trump did next to nothing to expand his base of support, and Clinton had probably her best performance, with a perfect combination of offense and shunning attacks from her opponent.
She successfully rebutted Trump when he attacked her 30-years in the public eye with a well crafted and practiced response comparing each of their lives over the decades. When more difficult questions about leaked emails came up, she successfully pivoted to Russia and Putin, effectively moving the conversation away from one of the toughest subjects throughout her campaign.
Trump also missed a number of opportunities by not pressing the issue of the damaging video showing Democratic operatives talking about inciting violence at Trump rallies. Nor did he harp on the various positions Hillary Clinton has taken on trade, exposed by hacked speeches to international banks.
Clinton got the sound bites in that she needed, calling Trump a puppet of Russia’s president Putin, which then dragged Trump into a typical childish retort: “No, you’re the puppet.”
In what was the strongest admonition of the Trump candidacy yesterday evening, Clinton propounded: “You are the most dangerous person to run for president in the modern history of America.”
While that might actually be flattering to Trump, who dubbed his rival "a nasty woman," his candidacy likely won’t be successful. “Becoming hard to see how Trump can win the election, unless polls have been massively wrong all along,” tweeted Nate Silver last night.