Americans laid low by the worst sort of gutter politics during this election cycle were relieved on Wednesday night to see a modicum of civility as Fox News moderator Chris Wallace kept both the candidates focused on issues during their third and final debate at the University of Nevada, in Las Vegas.
However, no one will remember the sedate start to the debate as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump soon turned the debate on its head by playing a bad sport. Even the Republican Party was mortified when their candidate refused to say he would accept the 8 November election verdict. When Trump was asked the same question last month at the first debate, he said: "The answer is, if Hillary wins, I will absolutely support her." But he changed his tune on Wednesday creating a furor.
"I'll tell you at the time – I'll keep you in suspense, OK?" is all Trump could concede when Wallace pressed him on whether he would accept the results if he loses.
Wallace raised a pertinent question since Trump is now beating the drums declaring the election is rigged. Trump's rigged claims are, of course, surfacing now with poll after poll showing him losing abysmally to his Democrat rival Hillary Clinton.
"That's horrifying. Every time Donald thinks things are not going in his direction, he claims things are rigged," Clinton deadpanned. She then proceeded to tick off how Trump sulked that things were rigged during the primary elections that he lost, the FBI investigation into her emails, the court system that hauled up Trump University, etc.
"There was even a time when Donald didn't get an Emmy for his TV program three years in a row and he started tweeting the Emmys were rigged," said Clinton to a twitter of audience laughter. "This is a mindset."
"Should have gotten it," Trump interrupted petulantly.
"It's funny but it's really troubling," said Clinton.
Republicans and campaign officials went into damage control mode by taking to social media to broadcast that their man would play by the rules despite what he said in the debate. Meanwhile, offshore betting companies based in the Caribbean paid out big bets on how many times Trump would utter the word "rigged" during the 90-minute debate.
"This is unprecedented in American political history. Never before has a presidential candidate sought to discredit the results of an election before it took place," noted The Wall Street Journal.
"No matter what else was said during this debate, expect the takeaway from the media – and also pushed by Clinton's campaign – to be Trump’s foray into discrediting the entire American political system," added the Journal.
Trump's campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said on Wednesday that she does not believe there is evidence of widespread voter fraud.
Aside from Trump's bombshell, the rest of the debate got off to a good start with both candidates framing their positions on the future of the Supreme Court which is currently paralyzed along conservative and liberal lines. Abortion has become a lightning rod in America and voters who have been waiting for a chance to hear Trump and Clinton flesh out their positions finally got that moment during the debate. The abortion exchange showed voters the wide gulf between the two candidates.
Trump said that if he became president he would appoint justices who would automatically overturn the landmark Roe versus Wade Supreme Court decision taken in 1973 giving women the right to abortion. In such a scenario, abortion policy would be set by the states pushing women back to the pre-1973 anti-abortion era.
In response, Clinton articulated her concern about expanding state restrictions on abortion, an issue that rallies her base. "I will defend Roe v. Wade, I will defend a woman's right to make the most intimate – most difficult in many cases – decision about her health that one can imagine," Clinton said. She castigated Trump for having said in the past that a woman should be punished if she got an abortion.
A majority of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in some circumstances although hardcore conservatives typically believe it should be illegal in most circumstances.
The Democratic candidate also clashed about guns with Trump dramatically declaring that the Second Amendment which allows Americans to own guns is "under such trauma." Trump who has the backing of the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) promised to appoint judges who "will not do damage" the ability of Americans to own guns. Clinton, on the other hand, said she supports upholding the Second Amendment but supports common-sense gun control measures like expanding background checks to all guns sold at gun fairs and on the Internet.
The civil start to the debate turned to nastiness with Trump accusing the "very sleazy" Clinton campaign of putting female accusers up to discredit him. At least nine women have accused Trump of sexual aggression and misbehavior which includes unwanted kissing and groping over three decades. Americans who were hoping for a genuine apology and some contrition from Trump after the sleazy "Access Hollywood" video were disappointed.
Clinton was lightening quick in her takedowns. “Made with Chinese steel,” quipped Clinton as Trump touted his lovely Trump International Hotel in Vegas. Trump shot back with "such a nasty woman."
Most Americans cringed when Trump repeated his calls to deport undocumented immigrants saying; “We have some bad hombres here, and we’re gonna get ’em out.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that there may be "no public figure as widely reviled as Trump in Mexico, where the GOP nominee's head is bashed in just about every day in the symbolic form of the piñata."
Clinton, meanwhile, took the high ground during her closing statement: "I've been privileged to see the presidency up close. I know the awesome responsibility of protecting our country and to make life better."
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Updated Date: Oct 25, 2016 10:54:17 IST