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Trump’s Reach Exceeds His Grope in Final Debate

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton participated in the third and final Presidential debate, where Trump continued to speak on a rigged election.

As I waited for the last presidential debate of the 2016 silly season, my mind wandered to one of my worst political predictions. Writing the introduction to the first debate of the Republican Primary on August 7, 2015, I opined:

The Republican Party is in much better shape than in 2012. The good news is the candidates are smarter and more serious. Nobody will call this crowd “the clown car.” The bad news is there are too many candidates and the voters don’t know most of them.

RELATED: Trump Throws Down on Megyn Kelly: Rating the Republican Debate

The polling in advance of that first debate put four candidates in front of the crowded field: Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Donald Trump and Scott Walker. The smart money said Carson and Trump were riding name identification and that the candidates to beat were Bush and Walker.

The smart money didn’t do any better than I did.

Speaking of smart money reminds me of a U.S. Marine smart-ass. Pete Kiernan is a veteran of Marine Special Operations Command and of the war in Afghanistan. He is currently studying political science at Columbia University. Kiernan organized pledges to veterans’ charities totaling $6 million if Donald Trump releases his tax returns before the last debate. Some people, at least some veterans, will recall that Trump bailed out of one of the primary debates and claimed he would instead raise money for veterans’ charities, and would personally give a million dollars.

Trump finally gave the money only after The Washington Post busted him for not giving the money. In last night’s presidential debate, Trump ignored the chance to support veterans with $6 million of other people’s money just by doing something his running mate, Mike Pence, and his opponents, Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, have already done---releasing his tax returns. Since he has already admitted to paying no taxes, it’s hard to imagine what else is in there worth denying $6 million to charity.

Trump—bragging about needing no preparation—lost the first debate badly. He did somewhat better in the second debate, but according to the polling he still lost. Between that debate and this one, he has been complaining publicly that the election is rigged.

He no longer believes in the many polls he used to gloat over when they showed him ahead. The pollsters are part of the conspiracy to rig the election, as are the media.

The moderator for the last debate was Chris Wallace of Fox News. Wallace is the first general election debate moderator from Fox. He has the best reputation of all the Fox personalities, and he won high marks for his work in the primaries. Since Trump has reserved his interviews mainly for Fox as his campaign has spiraled downward, a moderator from Fox was most inconvenient for Trump’s conspiracy theory.

Trump has dominated the agenda for this entire silly season, and before the last debate it was same old, same old—all the talking heads were fixated on what Trump was going to do. Why did he invite Barack Obama’s half brother, who claims to be a pal of the late Libyan dictator?

There was much less speculation about Hillary Clinton. What there was asked whether she would plant land mines for Trump to step on like she did in the first debate or concentrate on not losing, as she did in the second? Both tactics worked, so it was hard to get worked up about the speculation.

The second debate started with a refusal to shake hands but ended with a handshake. Last night, any handshake would have been sheer fakery on both sides.

The vitriol from the campaign trail was very much present on the campus of the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. I will do my best to point out where the candidates made news.

Without a doubt, the biggest news of the night was Wallace directly and repeatedly pressing Trump on whether he would accept the outcome of the election.

Trump refused.

Pence and even Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, endorsed the honesty of the election process, but it did not move their candidate.

When Trump refused to abide by the results of the election, it was like the entire room sucked in its breath. It was shocking.

The first discussion was about the candidates’ views of the Supreme Court. Each candidate articulated predictable concerns.

For Clinton: marriage equality, Roe v. Wade, and reversing the Citizens United case. She wanted justices who would “stand up for” her issues and “represent all of us.”

Trump asserted that “the Second Amendment is under trauma” and he wanted justices who are “pro-life,” admitting that meant reversing Roe v. Wade. He also attacked Ruth Bader Ginsberg and said he wanted justices who would interpret the Constitution “the way the Founders wanted it interpreted.”

As a judge, I found the views of both candidates disturbing in their own ways.

As to Clinton, my concern is that a court is not a representative body and it’s not a court’s function to “stand up for” anything but justice and the rule of law.

Trump segued into a gory and misleading description of late-term abortion as if it had something to do with the question; Clinton endorsed Planned Parenthood as if that were the issue.

Neither took the opportunity to explain the role of the SCOTUS, but I would fault Clinton more than Trump because she knew what needed to be said. I am not confident that Trump can be criticized for failure to describe a process he probably does not understand.

On the immigration issue, Trump blamed Mexico for the heroin epidemic in New Hampshire and he came out for deporting “drug lords.” Then he went somewhere I’ve never heard a Republican go by pointing out the record number of deportations under Obama. Usually, the claim is that Obama deported too few.

Clinton repeated her call for comprehensive immigration reform and took the opportunity to slip in that undocumented workers built Trump Tower with Chinese steel.

On foreign policy, Trump was once more the aggressor. He warned that “Russia has 1,800 nuclear warheads and she’s playing chicken.” He also asserted “Russia has taken over the Middle East.”

Russia has what it had before the revolution in Syria began: the friendship of the brutal dictator there, who represents a religious minority oppressing a majority. Russia has “won” by helping Assad cling to power, but that’s hardly “taking over” the Middle East.

On the economy, Wallace stated correctly that Clinton favors a more robust role for government than Trump.

Trump opposed the Clinton/Bernie Sanders proposal on public college tuition but asserted, “we are going to do lots of things” on that front without letting us know what things or how much they would cost.

Wallace asked Clinton if she was just proposing more of Obama’s stimulus? While she talked her way through the question, I did not understand why she did not point out that the amount of demand missing from the economy during a recession is a knowable number. That number is not opinion; it is arithmetic. While the average voter cannot read an aggregate demand curve, it should be possible to explain it in general terms.

Clinton proposed a trade prosecutor to enforce the trade agreements Trump wants to scuttle. The U.S. is currently a party to two multi-lateral free trade agreements (FTAs) covering Central America (CAFTA) and North America (NAFTA), as well as 12 bilateral FTAs. There are 4 multi-lateral and 13 bilateral FTAs being negotiated, the most controversial being the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Trump wants to renegotiate the ones currently in effect.

Since the nations in these agreements typically already enjoy “most favored nation” trade status, the issues in FTAs are exporting goods at prices subsidized by government or at a loss (“dumping”) and what protections for wages and environmental regulations can be imposed by selective tariffs. Disputes over these issues are at the heart of what affects U.S. workers and businesses. Clinton’s proposal assumes that what is needed is more aggressive and timely enforcement, while Trump wants to back out of our current FTAs entirely.

Trump was offered the opportunity to reply to the nine women who have so far accused him of doing what he claimed he does — groping. His defense was that the accusations are “totally false” and that Clinton put them up to it.

Wallace pointed out that Clinton’s proposals would send the national debt up to 86 percent of GDP while Trump’s would raise the debt to 105 percent of GDP. He also asked them both if they would accept a “grand bargain” on Social Security and Medicare that would combine tax increases and benefit cuts?

Neither candidate would accept a grand bargain on entitlements and neither would admit that their proposals would add to the national debt. Trump did mention that it would help to repeal Obamacare, but he did not say what the replacement should be.

Wallace gave both candidates a gift outside the rules. He offered each of them one minute to tell the people why they should be the next POTUS. He let Clinton go first, which gave Trump a minute to think.

Clinton said she needs our help to continue the fight for children and families that has been her life’s work.

Trump attacked Clinton, supported more money for the military, attacked immigrants, and closed by claiming the country can’t take four more years of Barack Obama and that is what Clinton would be.

Wallace had asked for a positive statement and he got it from Clinton. The extra minute to think did not help Trump produce a positive statement. Earlier, he had said of Clinton (while she was talking), “such a nasty woman.”

Trump’s rudeness might have been news on a different evening, but candidates have been rude before. Trump’s questioning the legitimacy of an election that hasn’t happened yet made big news.

Some have speculated that his grievance over “rigged elections” will form the basis of a new political party. Others claim he wants to run a television network that will broadcast news in a manner to his liking.

Whatever he wants, after tonight it is hard to believe he wants to be elected president of a formerly great country that runs rigged elections.