Clinton v Trump: Views on the last presidential debate

Two columnists from The New York Times give their take on the third and final debate between US presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Egged on to get egg on his face

Maureen Dowd

When Mrs Melania Trump stood by her man-child the other night on CNN over the lewd comments to Mr Billy Bush on a hot mic, she told anchor Anderson Cooper that her husband "was led on - like, egged on - from the host to say dirty and bad stuff".

She was offering her best defence. But it was actually the best damnation.

At the final 2016 United States presidential debate on Wednesday in Las Vegas, Mr Donald Trump once more showed how easily egged on he is.

Continuing to deploy lethal darts from her team of shrinks, Mrs Hillary Clinton baited Mr Trump into a series of damaging nails-in-the-coffin statements. And it was so easy. The one-time litigator prosecuted the case against Mr Trump, sparking another temperamental spiral, as effectively as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie once broke down Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

In Mr Trump's warped funhouse mirror of a psyche, every rejection is a small death. That is why he harps on humiliation, that America is being humiliated on the world stage, that it is losing potency - a theme that resonates with angry voters who feel humiliated by their dwindling economic fortunes and angry about illegal immigrants and refugees swarming in who might be competition.

Mrs Clinton once more proved adept at getting her rival's goat: She again contended that he is not a self-made man but a spoilt rich kid who was underwritten by his father and she accused him of choking on bringing up the issue of who would pay for the wall when he met the President of Mexico.

Mr Trump tried to stay calm, but he can never let go of a slight.

The rival candidates at Wednesday's presidential debate at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Mrs Clinton baited Mr Trump into a series of damaging nails-in-the-coffin statements, by continuing to deploy lethal darts from her team of shrinks, says one writer. PHOTO: REUTERS

He defended himself on groping charges by saying, "Nobody has more respect for women than I do." But he ended up, after Mrs Clinton's hazing - "Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger" - blurting out as she talked about entitlements: "Such a nasty woman."

He was all hat, no cattle. He gets so easily distracted by belittling statements - even though he dishes them out so easily - that he could not focus to make points in areas where Mrs Clinton is vulnerable. In order to stop losing, he would have to stop losing it. But he didn't.

No doubt it is hard for a man - whose lovely, sphinx-like wife rarely talks at dinners with friends to make room for more talking by Mr Trump - to listen to an opinionated woman speak dismissively to him over 90 minutes. When Mrs Clinton called Mr Trump a Putin puppet, he unravelled, once more proving how malleable he is with anyone from Russian President Vladimir Putin to Mrs Clinton, who either praises him or pokes him.

"No puppet. No puppet. You're the puppet," he said, going into what former Obama chief speechwriter Jon Favreau tweeted was "a full Baldwin".

Talking about Mr Putin, Mr Trump once more offered the simple reason he has flipped his party's wary stance towards the Evil Empire, subjugating his party's ideology to his own ego: "He said nice things about me."

Similarly, he reduced a debate about the Supreme Court to the fact that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had attacked him and had to apologise.

He was so unnerved, he said one of the most shocking things ever heard in a debate, putting his ego ahead of American democracy.

When asked by the admirable debate moderator, Fox News' Mr Chris Wallace, if he would accept the results of the election or reject it as rigged, Mr Trump replied coyly and self-destructively, "I will tell you at the time," adding, "I will keep you in suspense."

The inanity continued, naturally, when Trump spinners talked to the press after the debate. As The Washington Post's Mr Robert Costa tweeted, former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin told reporters that Mr Trump will accept only a "legitimate" election, and anything else would betray those who "died" for freedom.

And the Post's Mr Phil Rucker tweeted that "Giuliani just predicted Dems will 'steal' the election in Pennsylvania by bussing in people from out of state to pose as dead people to cast ballots".

Mr Trump tried to give what one of his biographers, Timothy O'Brien, calls his "Clint Eastwood 'High Plains Drifter' glare" and spaghetti western talk. "We have some bad hombres here that we're gonna get 'em out," he said about illegal immigrants who commit crimes.

But he was all hat, no cattle. He gets so easily distracted by belittling statements - even though he dishes them out so easily - that he could not focus to make points in areas where Mrs Clinton is vulnerable.

In order to stop losing, he would have to stop losing it. But he didn't. He got egged on. Bigly.

Election? We don't need no stinking election

Andrew Rosenthal

Remember when people, including me, thought that Mr Donald Trump's invitation for Russian hackers to invade Mrs Hillary Clinton's e-mails was one of the most breathtakingly undemocratic things ever said by a presidential candidate? We were so naive.

On the debate stage in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Mr Trump flatly refused, twice, to say that he would accept the results of the election.

When asked by the moderator, Mr Chris Wallace of Fox News, whether he would make the same commitment to respect democracy made by his running mate Mike Pence and his daughter Ivanka, Mr Trump gave one of his smug looks. "I will look at it at the time," he said.

I do not take much of what Mr Trump says seriously. He is not going to build a wall on the Mexican border, just for starters, unless his own company gets the contracts. But there is nothing more precious to American democracy than the peaceful transfer of power according to the will of the voters. It is the founding principle of our country.

Not, apparently, to Mr Trump, who earlier in the debate claimed to be a great champion of judges who applied the Constitution literally as it was written. (Which, of course, would mean that United States President Barack Obama and Mrs Clinton could never have voted, never mind become president.)

He blamed Mrs Clinton personally for inciting violence at his rallies. (A lie.) And said the news media is colluding with the Democratic nominee to poison the minds of voters, which is also untrue unless quoting his own words counts as poisoning. Mr Trump then went on to talk about the "millions" of people who are falsely registered to vote. Another lie.

Mr Wallace asked Mr Trump again to simply say he would honour the election results. Mr Trump's reply: "What I am saying is that I will tell you at the time. I will keep you in suspense." Mrs Clinton responded with a huge understatement. "That's horrifying," she said.

Mr Trump will not commit to honouring the election results. He is encouraging people to go to voting places to "monitor" voter fraud - a dog whistle for intimidating minority voters. And now he says he will not stand by the American people's judgment.

I do not believe Mr Trump is going to lead a popular uprising after election day. He is not the leader of a movement as he says. He is a narcissist. If he loses, he will probably go back to where he came from, to the haze of reality TV and shady business dealings.

But it was still terrifying to see someone in an American presidential debate implying that he did not respect the democratic system.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2016, with the headline 'Clinton v Trump: Views on the last presidential debate'. Print Edition | Subscribe