The Morning Jolt

That Debate Was Going So Well, Until . . .

Observations of the third and final presidential debate from my colleagues that I genuinely found insightful:

Tim Alberta and Eliana Johnson:

With his poll numbers plummeting and Republicans jumping ship to save themselves from the collateral damage, the GOP nominee needed a virtuoso performance on Wednesday to stop the bleeding and challenge the conventional wisdom of his imminent defeat. He couldn’t have asked for a better start, either. In fact, the opening 45 minutes Wednesday night were arguably his strongest of the entire campaign . . .

But any points Trump might have scored down the debate’s home stretch were negated when Wallace broached the topic Trump has hammered in recent days: a “rigged election.” The Republican nominee refused to say he would accept the results on November 8, promising only that he would examine them “at the time.” When Wallace reminded Trump of America’s tradition of peaceful transitions of power, and pressed for a more specific answer, Trump replied: ”I’ll keep you in suspense.” At that point, Clinton chimed in to underline the moment: “That’s horrifying.”

It was a fitting end to a debate season — and a campaign — in which the Republican nominee repeatedly distracted from his own potential strengths with the needless deployment of hyperbole and provocative rhetoric.

Jonah Goldberg, on Trump’s reflexive verbal habits when discussing Vladimir Putin:

The tipping point was his refusal to turn on Vladimir Putin. “He said nice things about me!” is a line he always has to get in. It’s so strange, because he honestly seems to think that repeating this helps him. It doesn’t. After months of criticism that Trump is easily swayed by flattery, when he points out that Putin flattered him and suggests that’s a valid reason for not overly antagonizing Putin it only reinforces the critique. More to the point, few are impressed that Putin complimented him, and those who are undoubtedly are voting for Trump already. Meanwhile, the few persuadable voters left are probably less likely to vote for him when he says things like that.

David French on how Trump may have felt he was asserting authority in his answer about accepting the results of the election.

The very instant that Chris Wallace explained to Trump that both his running mate and his daughter had said they’d accept the results of the election, I knew that Trump was going to dive into the deep end. He simply can’t resist looking like the toughest man in the room, and if he can do it by showing Mike Pence who’s boss, then all the better. So he says the one thing guaranteed not just to send the media into a frenzy, he says something that everyone but his most die-hard supporters knows is absolutely cartoon-level crazy — that he’s going to keep us “in suspense.” Yet here’s the thing — you can be tough on vote fraud without jolting the American people. You can say, “Chris, I believe in upholding and protecting the laws of this nation, and that means respecting the integrity of the ballot box and the peaceful transition of power.” It’s that simple.

Ramesh Ponnuru, on how this sort of message doesn’t help him at any level:

Once again, his message will be the one driving the debate. And once again, his message is not a good one for winning a general election. If his claims that the election is being rigged have any effect on the vote, it will be to depress turnout among supporters of his who believe him.

The boss, on Trump’s inability to modulate his personality for 90-minute stretch:

The problem for Trump is that maintaining disciple is so foreign to him he simply can’t turn in a complete debate performance. If he loses on November 8, these three debates will be a big reason why.

No, Trump Didn’t Do What He Needed to Do.

Part of my skepticism about the third debate stems from my assessment of the second debate. In the Sunday night debate in Saint Louis, I expected a complete meltdown after the “grab them by the” revelations. By the end of the night, I thought Trump did much better than in the first, and had a good night “by his standards.” But we saw little to no improvement in the polls for him — probably partially because the audience for the second debate was smaller, and partially because the viewers at home don’t judge Trump “by his standards.” They judge him by their own internal standard of what a president should say, think, and do, and they found Trump insufficient in the second debate as well. If a majority of voters didn’t like him in the first two debates, they’re not going to like him in the third one.

It’s a cliché of debate coverage to declare, “This was no game-changer, there were no knockout punches” but . . . tonight, in the third and final presidential debate, this was no game changer, and there were no knockout punches.

Well, maybe there was one self-inflicted knockout punch. Trump declared he won’t commit to accepting the election results. He contradicted Mike Pence’s answers on this question in the past few days, but that’s not surprising.

The implication is that on Election Night, Hillary Clinton could surpass 270 electoral votes and Trump doesn’t concede and declares the election has been stolen from him. To a lot of voters, that sounds like a sore loser refusing to acknowledge his own defeat.

Is there a legitimate concern about fraudulent votes? Sure. But most of the states are going to have margins beyond 100,000 votes. Based on past elections, some may have margins “only” in the tens of thousands. States like California, Texas, and New York could well have a margin of more than a million votes.

He had two particularly bad moments between his refusal to say that he will accept the election results on Election Night — “I’m going to keep you in suspense” — and his insistence that the accusations of groping and other sexual misconduct have been disproven and debunked. He had some better answers in policy, particularly on guns, abortion, Supreme Court justices, and Hillary Clinton’s scandals.

A fair question is how many voters are still watching. Debate viewership dropped between the first and second debate; we would expect it to drop even further for the third debate.

Trump has to hope that enough voters are still open to voting for him, that those voters were watching tonight, and that they preferred his answers on policy more than his flat denials of behavior he previously boasted about and the implication that he’ll deny the legitimacy of the election results if he loses.

The meltdown continues.

‘Not My President’ Has Always Been Around. But Not from the Defeated Candidate.

I think Twitter has become a giant machine for expanding the range of bad-faith arguments, confusion, misinterpretation and nasty attacks.

There are always those on the losing side who say they refuse to accept the results of the election, and that the person taking the oath is not legitimate or was not fairly elected.

This was/is generally limited to the fringe, or those outside of the political world.

We will see what happens on November 8. If the polls are anywhere close to accurate, this will not be a close election, and Hillary Clinton will win by a bigger margin than Barack Obama did in 2008 and 2012. A new poll puts Hillary Clinton up by 5 in Arizona. A new poll puts Evan McMullin up by 4 in Utah. Trump hasn’t led a poll in Florida since October 2. He hasn’t led a poll in North Carolina or Nevada since September 20, and he hasn’t led a poll in Pennsylvania since July. He’s never led in New Hampshire or Virginia.

In other words, any Trump claim of a stolen election will not require alleging a couple hundred fraudulent votes in one key swing state, the way the 2000 election came down to Florida. It will require alleging tens of thousands of fraudulent votes, perhaps hundreds of thousands, in each of four or five key swing states, most of whom have Republican secretaries of state who are overseeing the elections process and sworn to protect the integrity of the ballot. In other words, Trump will argue that our voting system was flooded with close to a million or perhaps more than a million illegitimate votes for Hillary Clinton across several states. Arguing that the 2016 election was stolen will require believing in vote fraud on a massive scale, going on underneath the noses of hundreds of poll watchers, polling place workers — or with the complicity of all of these officials.

It will be a vast conspiracy theory for the ages.

Has Project Veritas proven that there are malevolent Democratic groups and individuals who would love to pull something like this off? Yes. Should every one of those individuals and groups get investigated and prosecuted for wrongdoing? Absolutely. Do the videos prove that they can pull it off on a scale large enough to swing a presidential election? No.

Yes, it’s unnerving to watch NYC Democratic Commissioner of the Board of Elections Alan Schulkin caught on hidden camera at a United Federation of Teachers holiday party declaring . . .

 He gave out ID cards. De Blasio. That’s in lieu of a driver’s license, but you can use it for anything. But, they didn’t vet people to see who they really are. Anybody can go in there and say I am Joe Smith, I want an ID card. It’s absurd. There’s a lot of fraud. Not just voter fraud, all kinds of fraud.

It’s also worth noting that in 2012, Obama beat Romney in the Empire State by almost 2 million votes. Whatever shenanigans are going on in New York City, the presidential election in New York state was not stolen in 2012 — unless you want to argue that 2 out of every 7 ballots cast in the entire state was fraudulent.

ADDENDA: I’ll be doing a Facebook Live appearance on NR’s Facebook page at 2:30 today.


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