Trump cannot stop himself making it about him at the very moment it should be about her.

Last week I wrote that I had watched the second Clinton/Trump debate and wish I hadn’t. I presumed that experience had taught me a lesson and that I would give the third debate a miss – I was wrong.

No sooner had I returned home from appearing on RTE Radio One’s Late Debate show last night, but I found myself switching over to CNN and settling in to watch the pre-debate coverage. I am glad I did.

Last night’s third and final presidential debate was both substantive and surreal in equal measure. Turning first to why it was substantive, the credit for that goes mainly to the moderator Chris Wallace.

He was firmly in charge, from the outset. He was also ready to assiduously pursue both candidates on their weak spots. In Donald Trump’s case that was character and temperament, in Hillary Clinton’s, it was the email server and her 30-year record in public life.

Perhaps one of the reasons the early sections seemed substantive and policy driven was because Wallace treated the event not so much as a debate, but rather as a parallel, twin-track interview.

Wallace paced and sequenced his questions well and stuck mainly to issues of policy, starting with the issue of appointments to the Supreme Court. Bizarrely, this suited Trump. He emerged, from the early sections, not so much as the winner, but as the most improved candidate.

He didn’t ever get ahead of Hillary on points but he came close to equalling her the odd time, landing political punches on Clinton, whose answers on her email server saga, trade deals and her 30-year record are still weak and unconvincing.

This was Trump doing what his campaign and GOP strategists have wanted and needed him to do all along, portray her as the 30-year Washington DC insider, a part of the failing system that is alienating middle America – in contrast to Trump the maverick, free-thinking, independent outsider.

But as we have seen before with Trump, his restraint function has a 30-minute limit. Once that is reached, Trump’s silver foot (to adapt an Ann Richard phrase) homes unerringly for his mouth, taking out a few teeth en route.

Clinton to threw out some well-baited lines… and Trump took them almost every time, playing directly into her well-crafted narrative of Trump as the petulant narcissist who can be baited with a tweet.

But as damaging (or effective) as Clinton’s baiting of Trump was the point at where the debate straying from substantive to surreal was not as a result of her baiting, it was an exclusively unforced error of Trump’s own making: his arrogant refusal to say that he would accept the outcome of election.

The full exchange is worth re-reading:

WALLACE: Mr. Trump, I want to ask you one more question on this topic. 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, Governor Pence, pledged on Sunday that he and you, his words, “will absolutely accept the result of this election.” And today your daughter Ivanka said the same thing. I want to ask you here on this stage tonight: Do you make the same commitment, that you will absolutely accept the result of the selection?

TRUMP: I will look at it at the time. I’m not looking at anything now. I will 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, that they don’t even care. It’s so dishonest. And they have poisoned the minds 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 8.

Excuse me, Chris, if you look at your voter rolls, you will see millions of people registered to vote. This isn’t coming from me, from fury 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 as I talk about the corrupt media. I talk about the millions of people. I tell you one other thing. She shouldn’t be allowed to run. 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.

WALLACE: But sir, there is a tradition in this country, in fact one of the prides of this country, is the peaceful transition of power. 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 are necessarily going to be the you 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 that you are not prepared now to commit to that principle?

TRUMP: “What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense. OK?”

CLINTON: “Chris, let me respond to that because that is horrifying. You know, every time Donald thinks things are not going in his direction, he claims whatever it is is rigged against him. The FBI conducted a year-long investigation into my e-mails. They concluded there was no case. He said that the FBI was rigged. He lost the Iowa caucus; he lost the Wisconsin primary. He said the Republican primary was rigged against him. Then Trump University gets sued for fraud and racketeering. He claims the court system and the federal judge is rigged against him. There was even a time when he didn’t get an Emmy for his TV program three years in a row and he started tweeting that the Emmys were rigged.

At this precise moment Trump the man who can be baited by the simplest one-liner then doubled down on his own unforced error to inform Clinton and the great American voting public: “[I] Should have gotten it.”

And with that Trump ended his election campaign, taking his electoral status from “being toast” to “bitter charcoal”, effectively telling his voters, I can’t win because they will never let me win.

It was far from the sole moment of madness from Trump, but it is likely the one we will look back on and realise that’s when he ended it. Other moments from last night include him referring to illegal immigrants coming via Mexico as “bad hombres”.

Describing the impact that heroine and other drugs coming across the border from Mexico as “Poisoning the blood” and, amazingly, talked across Hillary Clinton calling her “Such a nasty woman” as she again baited him on tax and social security policy.

Here is a guy who started the debate, indeed has spent most of the last week, watching his support among women falling and seeing huge questions raised about his respect for women and he decides to use one of his last interjections in the final minutes of the last debate to utter the phrase: “Such a nasty woman”.

The task facing Trump last night was enormous, but he faced into it with the benefit of greatly diminished expectations. That task was to reach out to all those groups he has failed to reach thus far and try to bring them into his tent.

But I fear that is trying to apply standard political and campaigning logic to a campaign that doesn’t run on logic. To judge from his performance last night his tactic now is to damage Clinton in whatever way he can in the desperate hope of driving her support levels down below his.

It is the campaigning race to the bottom with added scorched earth, but even so, it is not a strategy that will work for him. Such is his vanity and self-obsession that he still cannot stop himself making the campaign about him at the very moment that it should be about her.

  • Kevin Breslin

    That’s not true, Trump can stop making it about him … when he makes it about Hillary.

    Pretty much Hillary is playing the same game with the names reversed.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I wonder what either of these people really have to do with the actual lives of ordinary people in the United States? The role of both will be to broker the relationship between financial interests with serious money and the American state. The rest is simply public “marketing”.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Derek, out of interest, where do you get your information on the US election? What news sites do you use?

  • Rory of the Hills

    One of the two actually has spent portions of her life helping the unfortunate. The other has not, and actually exploited everyone and everything he can for personal gain.

  • Rory of the Hills

    Trump is incapable of staying on message. He has to respond to every insult orcriticism, however small or meaningless. Hillary knew this and used it to great advantage. She knows trump simply can’t resist any bait to again make it about himself.

    If Hillary had to face someone like Romney, she would have had a very hard time at these debates. She’s the luckiest person around.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The “one of them” you refer to has made a very good thing financially out of her own political career. I’ve strong family links with the US, with people who are Democrat “insiders” who know the score and so I simply do not buy the hype on Hilary any more than I swallow the Trump marketing material.

    There is a very good reason that the Democrats successfully banded together to pick Obama and de-rail the Clinton machine eight years back. She is certainly not Jimmy Carter, who is the last President to whose inauguration I accepted an invitation, and who actually was someone who has spent his life genuinely “attempting to help the unfortunate”. As I remember the old wall graphite putting it in 1960s Notting Hill, “Don’t vote, it’s a double “X””, referring to the “extreme horror” designation of a double X certificate for films of that period in the UK.

  • johnny lately

    “One of the two actually has spent portions of her life helping the unfortunate”

    How much did the unfortunates have to donate to the Clinton foundation to get her attention ?

  • Kevin Breslin

    A Glorified Popularity contest was pretty much set in stone when Bernie Saunders lost the Democratic nomination contest and John Kasich the last man standing in the Republican contest pulled out (Ted Kruz pulled out earlier).

  • npbinni

    Everyone seems to forget that Gore contested the result against W in 2000, so it’s not a time-honoured tradition to meekly accept initial results. But you are correct, Derek, Trump has blown it with another stupid answer.

    So, here’s to another 4 years of Democrat incompetence and weakness on the world stage. The Russians, Chinese and Iranians must be ecstatic.

  • npbinni

    that’s hilarious, rory. clinton is as much a money and attention grabber as donald.

  • npbinni

    Just as a matter of balance, even though the media has no interest, Clinton still contests the result of 2000…

  • Derek Mooney

    I use a variety of sites including Politico, CNN, Washington Post and I also use the Polltracker app on iPad to track the latest national and state opinion polls. I follow a range of party, campaign and political commentator accounts via Twitter and Facebook

  • Rory of the Hills

    Hillary is no saint. Don’t get me wrong. She was not my choice for nomination. But at least you can acknowledge she has fought for children’s and woman’s rights throughout much of her career, starting shortly after law school.

    Yes, Jimmy Carter was probably the most honest person ever to be in the White House (at least in modern times). It didn’t make him a good president, and his Carter Center isn’t totally of free of taint (it fouled up its work in Venezuela pretty good, for example). But that is another conversation for another day.

  • Rory of the Hills

    The Clinton Foundation is a highly rated nonprofit, and spends 87% of its money on charitable works (the industry average is 75%). yes, its acceptance of money from foreign nations during her time as SoS looks bad and I’m sure the donors were looking for influence whether or not they got it, but don’t discount all the real good it does.

    She also worked for children’s rights as a young lawyer, and fought/has been an advocate for women’s rights for decades, for example. How much money did she get to call out China at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995?

  • Abucs

    This election seems to be all about having your media defenders point to the other guy as incompetent. In that respect both sides are winning.

  • chrisjones2

    Its closer than we might think. Hilary will probably win but Triump still has a chance …it all depends on what smears are deployed in last 3 weeks of the campaign and the polls seem to show a slight rise again for Trump against a fall for Hilary

    The issue may be as for Brexit – the secret Trump voters who will not admit it to pollsters and those who hate Trump but cannot stand Hilary and will not turn out or spoil their votes to show their contempt at the parties for offering only this brain dead choice

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The moment I were to vote for Hilary, I am implicated in everything she will do, as I have authorised her. I would be unwilling to be implicated in her engagement with the multinationals, if elected and I have heard too many insider stories about Hilary to trust that she has any real interest in the issues you mention beyond their value in votes.

    You are a free person, with a right to follow conscience in refusing to engage and can choose not to vote for either of these people.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Are you aware that cnn is exposed as skewing their polls by over sampling Dems. ? Basically they are being laughed at.

  • Derek Mooney

    They are hardly being ‘exposed’ when they openly acknowledge that their debate reaction polls have a Dem bias as more Dems tend to watch the debates than GOPers. They adjust for this and offer that “health” warning every time they release those quick debate reaction polls. That’s not an issue, neither are they being laughed at.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Pleeeeease Derek. I think you know what you are quoting is false. Just search and you will find that cnn is laughed at. the age of quoting main stream media is over. we know they are fake propaganda. bbc is a lie dispenser. its over.

    here is a quick google

  • Sir Rantsalot

    No. You cant block the exposure of Democrat election rigging and Democrat agitation to create violence at Trump rallies. The truth can’t be stopped. Many people already know this on the internet. You should know also. 2

  • Teddybear

    Sanders only lost because of the undemocratic super delegate vote i.e. one man several votes if you are a party grandee. Not v democratic of the Democratic Party

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Politico, CNN, MSNBC, Washington Post, Huffington Post, New York times, have all been exposed as biased and having rigged their own polls. Also WikiLeaks have shown the links between reporters and the corrupt Dems. If you google on each other these you’ll see the articles on independent news sites exposing them.

    You must know that CNN is referred to as the Clinton News Network 🙂

    I really recommend these sites to get a wider picture of the US election

  • Derek Mooney

    I do look at other sites, including some of the above ones, to get an alternative perspective – including the Alt-right one. But the sites you last are hardly impartial – indeed many of Trump’s key staffers moved directly across from Breitbart.

    I use Social Media to get insights too, there I follow the likes of senior Trump supporters Jeff Lord and Kellyanne Conway, plus middle group GOPers like Stuart Stevens (from Romneys 2012 campaign) and staunch Dems like Paul Begala etc.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    I must have a look at those people you list. Lets hope the movement for the little people of America prevails on Nov 8th, and they finally get a president that works for them, and not Crooked Hillary and her corporate special interests 🙂

  • Sir Rantsalot
  • John Collins

    Well actually Gore won the most votes in 2000, but lost due to the College voting system, where each state has so many votes. If the Donald was to lose in a similar fashion we would have a great auld tantrum entirely.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Because they are both right (about that anyway).