In his last-ever appearance on a national debate stage, for which we can be thankful, Donald Trump gave Hillary Clinton the gift that will keep on giving until the race is run.
Frankly, I never thought I’d see the day when a Republican candidate, representing a party that prides itself on all-American patriotism, would trash the American way of life by assailing our free elections as illegitimate. He actually refused last night to say whether he’ll accept the voters’ verdict — the most subversive statement in the history of presidential debates. His acolytes were surely atingle, but there aren’t nearly enough of them to win. Basically, with his unpatriotic remark, he fashioned a noose for his own neck and kicked over the stool.
The pivotal moment came when moderator Chris Wallace asked him, “You have been warning at rallies recently that this election is rigged and that Hillary Clinton is in the process of trying to steal it from you. Your running mate, Gov. Pence, pledged on Sunday that he and you — his words — ‘will absolutely accept the result of this election.’ Today your daughter, Ivanka, said the same thing. I want to ask you here on the stage tonight: Do you make the same commitment that you will absolutely accept the result of this election?”
Pence indeed made that pledge on “Meet the Press.” But in an apt metaphor for his dysfunctional campaign, Trump is not even in sync with his own running mate. Because this was his response to Wallace (I’ve preserved the verbatim incoherence, lies, and deceptive digressions):
“I will look at it at the time. I’m not looking at anything now. I’ll look at it at the time.
“What I’ve seen — what I’ve seen is so bad. First of all, the media is so dishonest and so corrupt, and the pile-on is so amazing. The New York Times actually wrote an article about it, but they don’t even care. It’s so dishonest. And they’ve poisoned the mind of the voters. But unfortunately for them, I think the voters are seeing through it. I think they’re going to see through it. We’ll find out on November 8th. But I think they’re going to see through it. If you look at your voter rolls, you will see millions of people that are registered to vote, millions — this isn’t coming from me, this is coming from Pew Report and other places — millions of people that are registered to vote that shouldn’t be registered to vote. So let me just give you one other thing. So I talk about the corrupt media. I talk about the millions of people — tell you one other thing. She shouldn’t be allowed to run. It’s crooked — she’s — she’s guilty of a very, very serious crime. She should not be allowed to run. And just in that respect, I say it’s rigged, because she should never. Chris, she should never have been allowed to run for the presidency based on what she did with e-mails and so many other things.”
I won’t bother to unpack all that. Most importantly, that Pew report, released in 2012, said nothing about voter fraud. It said that millions of names on the voter rolls are invalid or inaccurate — basically, a paperwork problem. There’s no evidence whatsoever that millions of scam artists have been showing up at the polls to steal those names. As the Politifact fact-checkers have pointed out, “More people are struck by lightning or attacked by sharks” than are accused of voter fraud.
One national study, which crunched the numbers in all elections from 2000 to 2014, found a grand total of 31 impersonation cases out of one billion votes cast. Another national study, which looked at all elections from 2000 to 2011, found 150 alleged cases of double voting, 56 cases of noncitizens voting, and 10 cases of voter impersonation. And when Trump claims that the election process is crooked, he’s impugning the integrity of the Republican secretaries of state who oversee elections in 29 states.
I guess he has no plans to emulate George H. W. Bush, who sent a handwritten note to Bill Clinton, the man who vanquished him, on the day Clinton was inaugurated in 1993: “You will be our president …. Your success is the country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.”
Anyway, last night, Trump was immediately challenged. Wallace said: “But, sir, there is a tradition in this country — in fact, 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 — not saying that you’re necessarily going to be the loser or the winner — but that the loser concedes to the winner and that the country comes together in part for the good of the country. Are you saying you’re not prepared now to commit to that principle?”
Seriously, how hard was it to commit to that principle and act like an American? Too hard for Trump, apparently. His response to the question was a dissing of democracy that will live in infamy:
“What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense. OK?”
What is this, a reality game show? He thinks he can build ratings by keeping us “in suspense” until next week’s episode? When he’ll sit in his golden chair and fire the democratic system? Who does this guy think he is?
Clinton, who had been waiting patiently, provided the answer that she had clearly prepared to unleash:
“Every time Donald thinks things are not going in his direction, he claims whatever it is, is rigged against him…. This is a mindset. This is how Donald thinks….It’s also really troubling. So 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. You know, President Obama said the other day [that] you’re whining before the game is even finished. It just shows you’re not up to doing the job. And let’s be clear about what he is saying and what that means. He is denigrating — he’s talking down our democracy. And I, for one, am appalled that somebody who is the nominee of one of our two major parties would take that kind of position.”
I need add nothing to that, except to point out that Trump’s lowest moment was the whine of a loser girding for a smackdown. As a disgusted Republican strategist told the conservative Washington Examiner yesterday, “Barring something extraterrestrial, this is over … This goose has cooked himself.”
My second favorite moment: “I have great respect for women.” Whereupon the audience, unable to restrain itself, burst out laughing.
My third favorite moment was when Trump eyed Clinton and muttered: “Such a nasty woman.” The hashtag #nastywoman has taken off on Twitter. As evidenced by the tweets, nasty is the new strong.