It was just before the second debate that a tidal wave of allegations against Donald Trump surfaced: He became the subject of sexual misconduct, alleged by several women. And shortly before the same second debate, it was reported that the Republican presidential candidate was in lock-down mode, holed up in Trump Tower with a few of his advisors and plotting his vengeance against the tapes. The New York Review of Books called that weekend "the most disturbing and extraordinary" in all of presidential campaign history.
Maybe they had a point.
In the third debate, Trump started out relatively composed only to launch into his predictable 'loose cannon' mode: he called out on Mexican immigrants as "bad hombres" (CNN's Van Jones said Trump's only use of Spanish in the election was to further nasty stereotypes against Latino immigrants), his excessive use of the word puppets, his frequent mispronunciation of words (big league/bigly, swatches/swathes) and his not-so-smooth deflection and immediate acceptance of the Putin bait that Hillary Clinton so masterfully laid out for him.
Moderator Chris Wallace pointed out the WikiLeaks dump to Clinton and asked her to respond on the $225,000 speaking fee for a Brazilian bank. Clinton, who didn't really seem equipped to explain herself on that matter, started by talking about the "open trade and open borders" allegation (that Trump had laid thick on her) before deftly attacking WikiLeaks and Russia and finally settling on Trump's relationship with Putin.
At first, Trump called Clinton's answer a pivot — which gave him the mileage to come with a different rebuttal — but he appeared to take the bait anyway by defending (or what looked like) Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was not his "best friend", but that the Russian had "outsmarted" Clinton repeatedly.
The former went on to talk about Putin, denying that he ever knew the Russian leader and remarking that Putin says "good things about him and not Clinton". Clinton, for her part, said that was because Putin wanted a puppet. Which made Trump retort like a sullen two-year-old: "No puppet. No puppet. You’re the puppet. No, you’re the puppet." It would appear that Trump lost the debate at that moment.
And Trump owes that defeat largely to his unpredictability and indiscipline — amazingly, his ability to make disastrous remarks has not lessened as the election date nears. Sample this. In this debate, when Wallace asked Trump if he'd "absolutely accept the result of this election", as his daughter Ivanka and running mate Mike Pence had pledged earlier, the Republican candidate's reply was a puzzling, "I will look at it at the time. I'm not looking at anything now. I will look at it at the time". And when Wallace pushed him further, advising him about the peaceful transfer of power that the US has followed for years, Trump's response was "horrifying", as Clinton put it: "What I'm saying is I'll tell you at the time. I'll keep you in suspense, okay?"
It's not just restricted to this debate. Trump's toxic sexist and misogynistic rhetoric has been a key focal point of his campaign, unfortunately for him. It's like he's on a death march all by himself — but it's not that Trump has finally lost it, but that he never had it to begin with.
Did Hillary Clinton make inroads into the Trump campaign, demolishing the real estate tycoon's fumbling attempts at being a presidential candidate? Or do we stick to the oft-discussed theory that Clinton is a weak candidate, but weaker still is her opponent, and that his political demise was his own?
If we go by the second theory, it would mean that we don't realise Clinton as a candidate in her own right.
The second debate was consequential in that it was the first debate post the audio of Trump making vulgar comments about women, which then effected a number of Republicans to withdraw their support for the candidate. In the debate, moderator Anderson Cooper schooled Donald Trump on the difference between "locker room talk" and legitimate sexual assault.
We received a lot of questions online Mr. Trump about the tape that was released on Friday, as you can imagine. You called what you said locker room banter. You described kissing women without consent grabbing the genitals. That is sexual assault. You brag that you have sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?
Trump, of course, didn't understand that going by his terrible and unconvincing reply, "No I didn't say that at all." He then went on to say that he apologised to his family (a claim which he took back in the third debate saying he didn't apologise to his wife Melania after assault of sexual allegations, which he claimed proved that he didn't do anything) and tried comparing the issue with IS and driving Cooper to get onto more important things. But Cooper wouldn't let go.
Just for the record though are you saying that what you said on that bus eleven years ago that you did not actually kiss women without consent or grope women without consent?
Donald Trump stressed that he had the greatest respect for women, a point he reiterated even in the third debate. And moments later proceeded to call his opponent "a nasty woman".
But the nights of the second and third debates undoubtedly belonged to Clinton — she projected a cool steely reserve and slowly proceeded to trounce Trump (a phenomenon the Internet describes as burned).
Not only did she crush Donald Trump "in the most effective series of debate performances in modern political history", as Ezra Klein writes, she also held her own: She made a passionate argument on abortion defending her views.
This is one of the worst possible choices that any woman and her family has to make. I do not believe the government should be making these decisions.
Trump, too, was not far behind. When it came to allegations on the Clinton Foundation, it looked like Trump made her squirm for moments, but perhaps that's all he had. For he lost it all and went into a meltdown after being needled by his opponent.
But as always, numbers come in handy when one decides if Trump recovered from his last debate debacle and if Clinton's calculated attacks on Trump's weakness paid in rich dividends.
Here's Nate Silver's take on the debate.
Popular vote tracker:
Before 1° debate: Clinton +1.5
Before 2° debate: Clinton +5.6
Before 3° debate: Clinton +7.1https://t.co/WLXtJovjYd
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) October 19, 2016
And the CNN/ORC poll puts Clinton as the winner with a 13-point margin and giving a her a hattrick across all thee debates.
It looks like Hillary Clinton has decimated Donald Trump, and her victory is assured, at least till we know what happens on 9 November.
With inputs from AP
Updated Date: Oct 25, 2016 10:50 AM