Trump debates well, but is unlikely to move the needle

I’m not sure what it means to “accept” the results of an election, but after tonight’s debate I’m more convinced than ever that this election is unacceptable.

In this corner, wearing the nauseating grin, is Hillary Clinton. She delivered a lengthy oration about the Supreme Court without ever mentioning the Constitution (which Chris Wallace specifically asked her about). Instead, she said she wants the Supreme Court to take sides.

To me, this answer is more inconsistent with Americanism than Trump leaving open the possibility of not “accepting” the results of the election (about which more in a moment).

In the other corner, looking pissed off and menacing, is Donald Trump. Apparently, he does not favor defeating ISIS in Mosul. In addition, as far as I can tell, he wants to concede Syria to Assad, and by extension to Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia.

And speaking of Russia, Trump seems agnostic about Putin, and that’s giving Trump the benefit of the doubt. I haven’t heard the tycoon utter a negative word about the Russian thug and the threat he poses to the world during the entire campaign.

Before assessing the debate, let me say something about “accepting” the results of an election. If, when Trump says he’ll consider his options after the votes are in, he is thinking about perhaps declaring himself president or trying to stage a coup, then Hillary Clinton is right to be horrified. We all should be.

If Trump means he might not formally concede, then he’s contemplating being a very bad loser. To not concede would run counter to a salutary custom, but there is no requirement that losing candidates concede. Not conceding would cast Trump in a bad light, but would hardly threaten the Republic.

If by possibly not accepting the election Trump means he might vigorously argue that it was “rigged” against him — e.g., the media was horribly biased and large numbers of illegal immigrants voted — this would be nothing more than Trump expressing his opinions. The only issue then should be whether Trump’s opinions are valid. If Trump is correct that he was the victim of unprecedented media bias and or voter fraud, then he would be doing America a favor by pointing these things out.

The mainstream media and other Clinton supporters are trying to insulate themselves from criticism over bias and fraud by demonizing Trump. But Trump should not be demonized if all he’s contemplating is arguing that the election wasn’t fair — i.e., refusing to accept that the election he lost was a fair one — as long as he can provide evidence to back his argument up.

As for the debate, there were fewer fireworks than I had expected. For the most part, the candidates debated the issues in an almost civilized manner.

I thought Trump started unevenly and missed some good opportunities to hammer Clinton, but picked up steam as the debate progressed and may have won on points. But I think the public might well adjudge Clinton the winner by about the same margin as her lead in the polls.

In other words, I doubt that the debate changed many minds.

Trump needed to show that he’s decent and stable. He came off that way during most of the debate, but he won’t be judged by this debate alone. And Clinton did an effective job of reminding voters of the long list of Trump transgressions that suggest a lack of decency and stability.

Moreover, Trump’s unwillingness to commit to “accepting” the results of the election may undo whatever progress he made tonight in persuading voters that he’s decent, stable, and presidential. Of all the statements made tonight, Trump’s unwillingness in this regard (whatever it actually means) will probably be the main talking point from the debate. Certainly, it will be what the media talks about the most.

Trump shot himself in the foot with his answer here. In my view, he needed a near flawless performance tonight, and didn’t come close to delivering one.

NOTE: In the original version of this post, I criticized Chris Wallace for not saying what he meant by “accepting” the result of the election. Looking at the transcript, I see that Wallace spoke in terms of Trump “conceding.” Thus, I was wrong to criticize Wallace who, for the most part, did a good job tonight.

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