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The Most Irresponsible Thing Ever Said in a Presidential Debate

Donald Trump refuses to accept the legitimacy of the election he’s trying to win.

Carlos Barria / Reuters

With his campaign flailing in the final stretch of the race, Donald Trump refused to endorse the legitimacy of the presidential election during Wednesday night’s presidential date, telling moderator Chris Wallace that he could not commit to recognizing its results.

“I will look at it at the time,” the Republican nominee said, adding, “I’ll keep you in suspense.”

Blaming the media for slanted coverage and saying that his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, should not have been allowed to run for president, Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transition, even as Wallace tried to explain to him that it was a bedrock principle of American government.

“This is how Donald Trump thinks,” Clinton said. “It is funny, but it is also really troubling. This is not how our democracy works. We have been around for 240 years. We have had free and fair elections. We have accepted the outcomes when we may not have liked them, and that is what must be expected of anyone standing on a debate stage during a general election.”

Trump’s refusal to endorse a core principle of American democracy, on stage during a general-election debate with much of the country watching, might be the weirdest, and most disturbing, moment yet in a campaign marked by breathtaking violations of protocol and decorum. Faced with accusations from his critics on both the left and the right that he is a wannabe tin-pot dictator, Trump rose to the occasion, determinedly confirming the attack. It was perhaps the most irresponsible thing ever said during a general-election debate.

That exchange, more than an hour in, was just one of several nasty moments that made this the tensest of the three debates. But in many ways, it followed the pattern of its two predecessors: Trump was irritable, blustery, and spouted dishonest statements. Clinton, meanwhile, was workmanlike and studious, and found herself occasionally on the defensive over her email server and hacked messages released by WikiLeaks. In general, she seemed content to play it conservative, holding on to what most polls find as a strong lead, rather than aim for a knockout blow. Trump delivered his most substantive and detailed performance, and landed a few solid blows, but as in previous debates, his erratic behavior overshadowed them.

The Republican has a habit of turning insults and criticisms back on his critics. When Clinton argued that Trump was too close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and would be a puppet, he sniped, “No, you’re the puppet. No, you’re the puppet.” When she questioned his unfitness for office, he replied, “No, you are the one that’s unfit.” Late in the debate, as she answered a question, he said, “Such a nasty woman.” At other times, he tangled with Wallace. Clinton, for her part, repeatedly tried to run over Wallace’s attempts to keep her to time limits, speaking over him.

It took 50 minutes for the issue of allegations of sexual assault against Trump to come up, and Wallace arguably did Trump a favor, setting it up as a contrast between those allegations and past allegations against Clinton’s husband Bill. Trump said, falsely, that the allegations had been debunked, then tried to pivot hard to videos released by conservative muckraker James O’Keefe that purport to show Democratic operatives bragging about inciting violence. Clinton, who surely expected such a question, turned directly back to the assaults.

“Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger,” she said. “He goes after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don't think there is a woman anywhere who doesn't know what that feels like. So we now know what Donald thinks and what he says and how he acts toward women. That's who Donald is.”

“No one respects women more than I do,” Trump answered—eliciting open laughter from the audience in Las Vegas.

Clinton kept pushing, bringing up Trump’s past attacks on New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, Judge Gonzalo Curiel, Senator John McCain, and Khizr and Ghazala Khan. “Every time Donald is pushed on something, which is obviously uncomfortable, like what these women are saying, he immediately goes to denying responsibility, and the not just about women,” she said. “I’d love to talk about other things,” Trump said, a moment of frankness. Perhaps that was unwise, though—within minutes, he had refused to endorse the legitimacy of the election.

For a few minutes at the start of Wednesday’s third presidential debate, it seemed like voters might actually get a substantive look at policy from the two candidates. The first question, to Clinton, was about how she would approach Supreme Court appointments, delivering a straightforward description of a liberal court that would defend Roe v. Wade, rule against major companies, and reverse the Citizens United case. Then Trump was up. He began with a swipe at Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, criticizing her for attacking him (she did) and his supporters (which she did not). When Wallace asked him directly whether Roe would be overturned under a Trump presidency, he tried to dodge the question, finally saying that with the justices he picked, it “inevitably” would be. But Trump quickly attacked Clinton for backing late-term abortions. She fired back that he was using “scare rhetoric” and pledging to protect the right to choose—contrasting the U.S. with countries with forced abortion or forced pregnancy.

So far, so good—or at least as good as could be hoped. Next up was immigration. Trump delivered one of the more memorable lines of the night, justifying mass deportations by saying, “We have some bad hombres here and we have to get them out.” Trump made a curious, quietly effective argument that Clinton, who voted for border security, and Obama, who has deported millions, were stronger on immigration that Trump had previously suggested.

Wallace asked Clinton about a speech to a Brazilian bank in which she said that she favored “open borders.” Clinton insisted that she was referring only to electricity markets—a statement that seems hard to support based on the transcript. She quickly tried to pivot, complaining that the hacked emails, revealed by WikiLeaks were a Russian plot, as U.S. intelligence officials have said. Trump said he did not know Putin, and he complained—in an echo of the 1960 election—of a missile gap with Russia.

“I find it ironic that he's raising nuclear weapons,” Clinton said. “This is a person who has been very cavalier, even casual, about the use of nuclear weapons. Trump insisted she was wrong: “There's no quote. You're not going to find a quote from me.” He was, yet again, lying. In April, in an interview with Wallace, Trump said, " So, North Korea has nukes. Japan has a problem with that. I mean, they have a big problem with that. Maybe they would in fact be better off if they defend themselves from North Korea." Asked by Wallace whether that included nuclear weapons, Trump said, "Including with nukes, yes, including with nukes.”

As has often been the case, Trump is most effective when talking about his opposition to existing free-trade agreements, one of his core arguments. He worked to tie Clinton to NAFTA.

“I pass factories that were thriving 20, 25 years ago. And because of the bill that her husband signed and she blessed 100 percent, it is just horrible what's happened to these people in these communities,” he said. “She can say that her husband did well. But, boy, did they suffer, as NAFTA kicked in, because it didn't really kick in very much. But it kicked in after they left. Boy, did they suffer.”

Clinton, for her part, accused Trump of outsourcing jobs, employing undocumented workers during the construction of Trump Tower, and using cheap Chinese steel to build his own hotels in the U.S. She vowed to not add a single penny to the national debt with her economic-stimulus plan.

Everything from Trump’s filibuster on electoral legitimacy felt a little anti-climactic. The candidates went through pro forma discussions of foreign-policy hot spots, for the most part reiterating past positions. At the end of the debate, it was no great surprise when the candidates did not shake hands.

The end of the election is looking equally anticlimactic. With less than three weeks to go, Trump is falling behind in the polls. While debates are seldom good places to change the momentum of the race, it was one last chance for Trump to impress upon a huge national audience his readiness for the presidency; instead, he chose to question the very enterprise he wishes to run. If he loses on November 8, there’s no reason to expect a friendlier denouement to the election than there was to Wednesday’s debate.


This live blog has concluded

Students at Liberty think Trump was the winner. "He went more in-depth," said Hanna Debnam, a senior. "Trump won because he attacked her record," said Cody Johnson, another senior.

Chris Wallace didn’t intend to fact-check the candidates—but he did so anyway.

Coming into the debate, Wallace suggested that he wanted the candidates to fact-check each other, but several times throughout the debate he interjected himself to challenge the candidates’ claims or to compel them to stay on topic. In particular, he pressed Trump on the sexual assault allegations, the Trump Foundation, and his comments that the election is rigged. Such an approach felt necessary in light of previous debate answers from Trump that strayed from the truth—although he did not hesitate to question Clinton either.

Trump's Tough Time Debating for 90 Minutes


One of the big stories of these debates has been stamina, and not in the way that Trump wanted when he tried to raise concerns about Clinton's age and health. It turns out that the 70-year-old Trump is the one who struggled repeatedly to stay poised for the full 90 minutes of a presidential debate.

Tonight the candidates debated civilly and even substantively for the first 30 minutes or so, and then Trump, as in the first debate, seemed to lose his discipline and composure. He began interrupting Clinton frequently, whispering "wrong" into the microphone, and digressing into non-sequiturs. By the end, he was suggesting he would challenge the results of the election if he lost and giving answers about topics like Syria that were simply incoherent. Clinton spent days preparing for the gauntlet of a 90-minute debate, and it showed.

At the first Republican debate, Trump declined to pledge his support for the eventual GOP nominee. Now, he’s made the same demurral, but this time, he’s refusing to support the eventual leader of the United States. Trump might not see the situations as all that different. But they are.

Life, Including on a Campaign, Is 'All High School'


I love Wolf Blitzer's wondering aloud about whether the candidates were going to shake hands at the end. (They did not, and they didn’t at the start of the debate either.) When I was growing up, my parents often said to me, of grown-up life, that "it's all high school." I've thought this many, many times since high school—but maybe especially this year.

Rick Wilking / Reuters

No post-debate handshake. Hillary leaves the podium first while Trump lets her go greet Wallace first.

The Most Irresponsible Thing Ever Said in a Presidential Debate

As far as I’m concerned, Donald Trump’s remarks about the election results—his statement that he will keep us “in suspense” about whether he will accept the results on November 8–is the most irresponsible thing ever uttered during a presidential debate in my lifetime. The moment that passed his lips, any substantive evaluation of whether he won or lost the debate was decided: he lost by showing himself unfit for the massive responsibility of the presidency. Shame on him.

Trump's Last Words at the Debate

David Goldman / AP

In his closing statement, Trump says: "When I started this campaign, I started it very strongly: "Make America Great Again," we're going to make America great again." He goes on to add: "We cannot take four more years of Barack Obama and that's what you get with her."

A CliffsNotes Version of Clinton's Closing Statement

Drew Angerer / Getty Images

For her closing statement, Clinton says that she is "reaching out to all Americans, Democrats, Republicans and Independents" adding that we need everyone to "help make our country what it should be." She added: "I've been privileged to see the presidency up close and I know the awesome responsibility of protecting our country and the incredible opportunity of working to try to make life better for all of you."

Chris Wallace, Debate Troll

John Locher / AP

Apparently the candidates didn’t agree to giving closing statements. Chris Wallace just trolled them hard and asked them to give some anyway. "This is the final time, to your delight probably, that you'll both be on the stage in this campaign,” he said. "I would like to end it on a positive note. You had not agreed to closing statements but it might make it more interesting because you haven't prepared closing statements."

Clinton dodges on the question of whether she would support a "grand bargain" on entitlements of the kind that President Obama tried to negotiate with then-Speaker John Boehner. This is a touchy subject for Democrats, who treated that dance skeptically and now want to expand Social Security. Yet in the WikiLeaks emails, Clinton was quoted in a paid speech as praising the Simpson-Bowles plan that combined tax increases and spending cuts.

Trump's Health-Care Plan Is Costly

Trump is holding fast to his promise to "repeal and replace Obamacare" to make social programs fiscally viable in the future. But Trump's plan as scored by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget would cost the country hundreds of billions of dollars, and would at the same time immediately put millions of Americans—many of whom just gained insurance coverage after years or lifetimes without it—back into the ranks of the uninsured. It's simply unclear what the benefit of his health-care plan is for anyone beyond politics.

'Such a Nasty Woman'

David Goldman / AP

“Such a nasty woman,” Trump says, unprompted. He had two minutes left to make his case to lead America. That’s what he wanted to interject?

Emma Green

Hillary Clinton graced Liberty's campus this evening—in her jailhouse jumper. A dressed up cardboard cut out is set close to the stage at the debate-watch party.


Clinton is bringing out the last dregs of her opposition research now, referencing a 1987 ad that Trump bought criticizing President Ronald Reagan. Her point is that Trump may say, "Make America Great Again," but it's not clear that he thought America was ever great.

Trump again resorts to a bit of magical thinking in explaining how his spending plan won’t balloon the national debt—it’ll spur enough economic growth to turn into a net positive for the nation’s balance books. Nearly every politician makes this argument at some level or another, and many make predictions that are far more optimistic than most economists would allow.

Alexis Rucker, a Liberty University senior, says Trump's national security policy is one of the main reasons why she's supporting him. She supports Brexit, and think that vote is evidence of why polls aren't trustworthy. "Brexit inspires people," she said. "The whole world was saying they would remain, but the people surprised them." She believes Trump is winning the election

"I will defeat ISIS," Clinton promises. National security experts warn against these kind of definitive and all-encompassing promises. It's not realistic to promise to defeat terrorism, and the more that political leaders say they will the more they set the public up for disappointment, which in turn can lead to backlash.

As Krishnadev notes, it is very hard to keep a large offensive secret; furthermore, there's a psychological advantage to threatening an offensive (it's been argued that one reason ISIS was able to get four Iraqi divisions to melt away in the face of a few thousand insurgents was the threats that preceded the attack) . Leaving that aside for the moment, Trump is right to note that Mosul was secured before, during the Iraq War, and the insurgents came back. Why would this time be different? For one thing, Sunnis there have lived under ISIS for two years. My colleague Sid detailed the other reasons today.

This Election Is Ignoring Climate Change

It looks like we're going to go through this debate without a serious discussion on climate change. In the hottest year ever, during the discussion over some of the most important global emissions policies ever created, it is amazing how badly this election has dropped the ball on the pressing threat of climate change.

Bernie Sanders Is a Talking Point Tonight

Brian Snyder / Reuters

Everyone's favorite Democratic socialist comes up yet again. In the midst of an argument over who is more fit to be president, Trump brings up Bernie Sanders. "You know Bernie Sanders he said you have bad judgement, you do." Clinton was not content to let that one slide. "Well you should ask Bernie Sanders who he's supporting for president," she said, adding: "He has campaigned for me all over the country."

As Trump touts Sanders's quotes about Clinton's judgment during the primaries, Sanders tweets this:

The Iraqi military began operations to retake Mosul about six months ago, pushing out ISIS from areas near Iraq's second-largest city. Donald Trump's assertion that the Mosul operation should have been a surprise is akin to calling the bombing of Laos in the 1970s a "secret." It might have been a secret to those in the West, it certainly wasn't a secret in Laos. Similarly, a massive, ongoing anti-ISIS operation is unlikely to be a secret to ISIS.

Trump returns to a neologism that seems to be unique to him: red line in the sand.

Democracy 'Depends on the Consent of the Losers'

Andrew Harnik / AP

"I'll keep you in suspense" Trump says about whether or not he'll accept the results of the election. As Uri wrote recently, democracy around the world depends on the consent of the losers. And as Larry Diamond wrote today, the late Yale political scientist Juan Linz "stressed two factors in the failure of democracy" (which, he argued, could happen here):

One is the growth of “disloyal opposition”—politicians, parties, and movements that deny the legitimacy of the democratic system (and its outcomes), that are willing to use force and fraud to achieve their aims, and that are willing to curtail the constitutional rights of their political adversaries, often by depicting them as “instruments of outside secret and conspiratorial groups.” But at least as great a danger, Linz warned, was “semiloyal behavior” by parties and politicians willing “to encourage, tolerate, cover up, treat leniently, excuse or justify the actions of other participants that go beyond the limits of peaceful, legitimate … politics in a democracy.”

Trump's Statement on Election Results Separates Him From His Party

Perhaps more than any other statement he has made, including those he made on the infamous Access Hollywood tape, Trump's refusal to commit to accepting the results of the elections puts him at odds with virtually every senior leader of the Republican Party. His running mate, Mike Pence, has said the ticket will abide by the results, and even Trump's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, said she does not think there will be widespread voter fraud in the election. Trump right now is completely isolating himself, and we'll see if the coming days if either he—or top Republicans—change their stance.

Trump Challenges the Premise of Democratic Elections

Joe Raedle / AP

Will Trump accept the results of the election?

“I will look at it at the time,” he said. “I'm not looking at anything now. I will look at it at the time. What I have seen is so bad.”

Chris Wallace was justifiably shocked.

But sir, there is a tradition in this country the peaceful transition of power, and the matter how hard fought a campaign is, at the end of the campaign, the loser concedes to the winner. Not saying you are necessarily going to be the loser or the winner, but that the loser concedes to the winner and the country comes together, in part for the good of the country. Are you saying you’re not prepared now?

“What I am saying,” Trump replied, “I will tell you at the time. I will keep you in suspense.”

Democracies aren’t sustained by those who win office. They’re sustained by those who lose elections, but respect the system, abide by the results, and agree to work within it to realize the changes they seek. As I wrote this weekend, Trump’s challenge the system is quite real. He’s suggested that his rival is illegitimate, that the media is arrayed against him, and that fraud is rampant. But the unmistakable subtext of these charges is that if Clinton’s coalition—stitched together from a diverse array of constituencies, notably women and minorities—prevails over Trump’s, the result will be illegitimate.

Wallace, to his credit, wasn’t having it. Clinton was equally incredulous. It’s now up to the leaders of Trump’s own party to step in, and make clear to their nominee that he’s crossed a line that cannot be crossed.

Over the past few weeks, Donald Trump has steadily built a rhetorical case for challenging the results of the election and sidestepping the traditional peaceful cession of power between candidates. While that case has not been built on a solid base of facts, it has inflamed fears of voter fraud and election rigging that seem to go hand in hand with disenfranchisement of minorities and poor people. While this is the last debate and all eyes are now glued to the polls and November 8 results, the signs point to Trump maintaining some power over his legions afterwards.

"That's horrifying," Clinton says after Trump refuses under pressing from Wallace to commit to conceding if he loses. "I will keep you in suspense," Trump said.

Clinton Returns to Aggressive Debate Tactics

Clinton has been much more aggressive this debate than in the town hall, more like what she did in the first debate. She has deftly taking advantage of opportunities to bring up Trump's myriad vulnerabilities, including just now, when she segued from a question on the Clinton Foundation to Trump's tax returns and charged that undocumented immigrants were paying more federal income taxes than he was.

Every time a difficult issue comes up for Hillary Clinton—pay to play at the Clinton foundation, whether she mistreated her husband’s accusers, her poor judgment–I keep thinking, my goodness, another candidate could really press this effectively. And this guy? Why did Republicans possibly choose him?

A Clinton Comment 'That Cuts Across Partisan Lines'

One of the most memorable lines of the night is sure to be Clinton's charge that Trump belittles women by going "after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don't think there is a woman anywhere who doesn't know what that feels like." It's a comment that cuts across partisan lines. It also hits at a major weakness for the Republican nominee: His crumbling standing with Republican women. It even takes a page out of former GOP presidential contender Carly Fiorina's playbook. "I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said," Fiorina said during a primary debate, in response to comments Trump made that seemed to disparage her physical appearance. He’d said to Rolling Stone, while watching her on TV: "Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?"

Trump Calls the Clinton Foundation a 'Criminal Enterprise'

Win McNamee / Getty

Clinton is asked about the Clinton Foundation and allegations of "pay to play." She gives no ground. She says it is a "world-renowned" charity and that she could spend the rest of the debate talking about it. Trump interjects that it's "a criminal enterprise" and says it takes money from countries that abuse human rights. Then he demands that she give back the money from those countries.

Trump's Blunder: Hillary Does Get Things Done

John Locher / AP

“The problem is you talk but you don't get anything done, Hillary,” Trump said. “You don't.”

It’s an odd charge to level at Clinton who, like many women politicians of her generation, has always made her ability to get things done the core of her political message. And it didn’t take long for Clinton to tackle the charge head on:

He raised the 30 years of experience. Let me talk briefly about that. Back in the 1970s, I worked for the Children's Defense Fund and I was taking on discrimination against African-American kids in schools. He was getting sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination in his apartment buildings. In the 1980s I was working to reform the schools in Arkansas. He was borrowing $14 million from his father to start his businesses.

In the 1990s I went to Beijing and I said, women's rights are human rights. He insulted a former Miss Universe, called her an eating machine. And on the day when I was in the situation room monitoring the raid that brought Osama Bin Laden to justice, he was hosting the Celebrity Apprentice.

So I'm happy to compare my 30 years of experience, what I've done for this country, trying to help in every way I could, especially kids and families get ahead and stay ahead, with your 30 years. And I'll let the American people make that decision.

Sometimes, Trump has found that repeating a charge loudly enough, and often enough, suffices to make it stick. In this case, though, the man seeking to be the first president never to have held elective, appointive, or military office found that attacking his rival for not getting enough done was a bad idea. Not everyone likes what she does. Not everyone likes how she does it.

But it’s hard to doubt Hillary’s capacity to get things done.

The crowd giggles as Trump says “nobody has more respect for women than I do.” Fitting? Yes. But there really shouldn’t be live audiences if the idea is that they should be totally silent. It’s never gonna happen.

"Nobody has more respect for women than I do," Trump says, and Chris Wallace has to admonish the debate audience not to laugh.

Trump's Attacks on His Accusers Could Have Far-Reaching Consequences

Clinton brought up the various ways that Trump has retaliated against some of the women who have accused him of sexual assault, including suggesting that some of them aren't attractive enough to be assaulted. There's reason to believe that Trump's verbal attacks against the women who have accused him of assault could inflict serious damage, including silencing other women who have experienced sexual abuse.

"Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger,” Clinton said. "He goes after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don't think there is a woman anywhere who doesn't know what that feels like."

Why Clinton's Attack on Trump's History May Sound Familiar


Clinton spent some time contrasting her personal history with that of Trump’s. In the 1970s, she said, she was working for the Children’s Defense Fund while he was "getting sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination” in his residential properties. More recently, when she was observing the 2011 Osama bin Laden raid, he was hosting The Celebrity Apprentice.

This is an effective attack against Trump, who hopes to sour voters’ view of Clinton’s long experience. But if this all sounds eerily familiar to you, it may be because you spent some time on the Clinton campaign’s recently revealed “wayback machine,” which makes these contrasts directly through an interactive game.

A Fact-Check on the Trump Sexual Assault Allegations

Trump says the accusations of sexual assault against him have been "largely debunked." No, they haven't.

He proceeds the same kind of charges against the women accusing him—they did it for the money and fame—that he spent the last debate accusing Clinton of doing to Bill Clinton's accusers in the 1980s and '90s.

The next segment is "fitness to be president of the United States," Chris Wallace announces, immediately pivoting to Trump's 2005 recording where he bragged about groping women and the recent series of allegations from women publicly accusing Trump of sexual assault.

"I just left some high representatives of India,” Trump said. "They're growing at 8%. China is growing at 7%. And that for them them is a catastrophically low number.” He goes on to compare this with America’s recent GDP growth, which has grown between 2.5 percent to 4.5 percent per year since the recession. It’s not quite fair to compare a developed economy like the U.S.’s, with a GDP approaching $20 trillion, with nations whose eye-popping annual growth figures come from a much smaller baseline.

Clinton's Pointed Questions for Trump on Nukes

Rick Wilking / Reuters

Clinton: "The bottom line on nuclear weapons is, that when the president gives the order, it must. be. followed." Two questions she's raising here. One: Does Donald Trump have the temperament to make the decision to launch a nuclear weapon—especially when, in the event of a suspected nuclear attack on the United States from another country, the decision to retaliate or be annihilated has to be made within minutes? William Perry, the secretary of defense under the Bill Clinton administration, recently recounted what the stakes are:

I experienced a false alarm nearly 40 years ago, when I was under secretary of defense for research and engineering. I was awakened in the middle of the night and told that some Defense Department computers were showing 200 ICBMs on the way from the Soviet Union. For one horrifying moment I thought it was the end of civilization. Then the general on the phone explained that it was a false alarm. He was calling to see if I could help him determine what had gone wrong with the computer.

Two: Is the idea of more countries having nuclear weapons a good one? Bipartisan foreign-policy tradition has pretty much argued no since the dawn of the nuclear era. Ronald Reagan, for example, famously said that "a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought." One problem with proliferation is a simple numbers game: How many different fallible humans do you want with control over nuclear weapons?

The Candidates' Contrasting Dispositions

Mike Blake / Reuters

Of all the contrasts between Trump and Clinton one that's very evident tonight is how angry Trump looks compared to how Clinton seems much more able to switch between serious and smiling when the moment calls for it. Trump's serious demeanor once prompted my colleague Alex Wagner to ask whether Trump knows how to laugh. Clinton may come across as inauthentic to a lot of people, and her jokes don't always land. But a self-deprecating sense of humor can still make it easier for people to relate to a candidate. Trump doesn't seem to have one.

Jorge Reyes, a Liberty University senior from Richmond, is one of a handful of students wearing a Johnson / Weld shirt at the debate watch party. He's extremely disappointed his candidate isn't on stage, he says. "He might have trouble talking over these two, but at least we'd be talking about policy."

Clinton's Gamble on the National Debt

"I will also not add a penny to the debt," Clinton says, repeating a line she has used on the campaign trail. This is a very risky assertion for a candidate who, as of now, looks like she will be running for reelection in 2012. The debt and the deficit are two different things, and while Clinton probably means that her plans are paid-for and will not add to the deficit, they will add significantly to the debt unless she balances the budget immediately, which is impossible without essentially eliminating most federal spending for a year.

It's easy to see that line coming back to haunt her come election time in 2018 or 2020.

Economic policy is, if memory serves, the area where Donald Trump polls strongest. In this debate, he is harkening back to nuclear weapons and foreign allies in the economics section, even though those are the areas where independent voters seem to trust him least. Throughout the general election, Trump would have been much better served if he were a person capable of letting anything go.

What's Really Behind NATO's Increased Spending

The NATO star outside the alliance’s Brussels headquarters in 2014
Virginia Mayo / AP

Trump just took credit for NATO's European members beginning to spend more of their GDP on defense. He said it was because he demanded they pay up on the campaign trail. When I spoke recently to Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former NATO secretary-general, he attributed that increased spending to European countries realizing that Russia was more of an adversary than a partner, as they had believed in the years right after the Cold War. When I asked him whether Trump was responsible for NATO focusing more on counterterrorism, as Trump had also claimed, he chuckled. And he said no.

"You go to Pennsylvania, you go to Ohio, you go to Florida…” says Trump, ticking off one, two and three swing states in explaining his economic plan.

Here's the quote in which Trump says nuclear proliferation may be a good thing, which he just said didn't exist: "You have so many countries already—China, Pakistan, you have so many countries, Russia—you have so many countries right now that have them. ... Now, wouldn’t you rather, in a certain sense, have Japan have nuclear weapons when North Korea has nuclear weapons?”

Trump's Campaign Manager Wants to Make it Clear: 'Bad Hombres' Was All His Idea

Mike Blake / Reuters

Victory has a thousand fathers; losing presidential campaigns are orphans.

Trump campaign manager Kellyane Conway approvingly retweeted Washington Post reporter Robert Costa’s observation that many of Trump’s lines sounded like her handiwork, but that “bad hombres” was a pure Trumpism.

Possibly, she wants her boss to get full credit for a moment that’s sure to make the highlight reels. But maybe, just maybe, she wants to make it clear to future employers that this particular quip wasn’t her idea.

A Hat Tip to Bernie Sanders on Debt-Free College

Charles Krupa / AP

Bernie Sanders gets a shoutout. Clinton says: "I want to make college debt-free, and for families making less than $125,000 you will not get a tuition bill from a public college or university, if the plan that I worked on with Bernie Sanders is enacted, and we're going to work hard to make sure that it is."

As Hillary Clinton starts talking about the statement revealed in WikiLeaks, Liberty students at the debate watch here cackle with incredulous laughter. Trump’s retort also gets big laughs.

Trump boasts of having the support of 200 military officers. Mitt Romney had 500 endorsement from a similar cohort four years ago.

The Truth About NAFTA? It's Complicated

Donald Trump often describes NAFTA, negotiated with Canada and Mexico during Bill Clinton's administration, as the worst trade deal in world history. But the truth is less spectacular and more complex. Here's how the Congressional Research Service put it in 2015: "NAFTA did not cause the huge job losses feared by the critics or the large economic gains predicted by supporters. The net overall effect of NAFTA on the U.S. economy appears to have been relatively modest."

Trump: "Look, she's been proven to be a liar in so many ways. This is just another lie."

Checking Clinton's View on Trade

Chris Wallace asked Clinton about comments she made to a Brazillian bank on 2013, where she said her “dream” is a "hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders.” Clinton said her comments were made in the context of energy supply. It’s hard to tell from the actual quote:

My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders, some time in the future with energy that is as green and sustainable as we can get it, powering growth and opportunity for every person in the hemisphere.

However, comments she made in a different speech in 2015 do indicate she’s definitely amenable to trade and labor flows beyond the energy-only framing she’s claiming in the debate. Here’s a quote, delivered to the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce:

The North American future that I imagine is one that would give us energy connectivity, give us a much more open border where goods and services more easily flowed, would give us the chance to put our heads together about what else we can do together, bringing Mexico in to continue the work we have started on health care like early warning systems for epidemic diseases.

"She doesn't like Putin, because Putin has outsmarted her at every step of the way," Trump says of Clinton.

Trump is not happy to be having this conversation about Vladimir Putin. When Clinton says the Russian leader wants to have "a puppet," he snaps back: "No puppet! No puppet! You're the puppet."

What About a Northern Border Wall?

Interesting that Trump cites a heroin problem in New Hampshire as a reason to build a wall on the ... southern border of the United States. The New York Times recently had an interesting piece on the particular challenge of the northern border. "While the Southern border with Mexico, about 2,000 miles, attracts much more attention," Ron Nixon wrote, "the 5,500-mile Northern border with Canada offers more opportunity for illegal crossing." No word so far on wall plans up there.

Why Did Clinton Blame Putin for the Hacked Emails?

Patrick Semansky / AP

“This has come from the highest levels of the Russian government,” Clinton charged of the Wikileaks hacks. “Clearly from Putin himself, in an effort, as 17 of our intelligence agencies have confirmed, to influence our election.”

Clinton had a very strong hand to play—intelligence agencies have, reportedly, pointed the finger at Russia. But unless Clinton is publicly disclosing information that goes beyond published reports or official statements, there’s no clear link all the way up to Putin himself. It’s baffling to see her dealt an incredibly strong hand on this issue, and then overplay it.

Trump's Bait-and-Switch on Chicago

Donald Trump used Chicago and Illinois's tough gun laws and still-climbing crime rates as supporting evidence for his position that tough gun laws do not reduce gun violence. There's one big problem with that, though, and it's a problem that actually could necessitate tougher uniform national standards: Chicago is in close driving proximity to Indiana and Wisconsin, states with much more lax gun laws. The wide discrepancy in laws across a multi-state metro area means that it's difficult to implement gun laws and track criminals with illegal guns. Tighter federal gun laws should reduce that problem.

Wow. Trump actually praises Obama for moving "millions and millions" of people out of the country by deporting them. Immigrant groups have been angry about that fact for years, and the Obama administration has been frustrated that Republicans in Congress never gave them credit for it. Now, Donald Trump of all people is.

Trump is making a very effective, quiet case that Obama and Clinton are actually much stronger on immigration than he has said before, pointing to her support for border security and his millions of deportations.

A Fact-Check on Immigration Officials Endorsing Trump

“ICE last week endorsed me,” Trump says, referring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

This is not true. As Politico noted: “No, Donald Trump was not endorsed by an entire government agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He was endorsed …. by a union of ICE employees, but that’s not the same.”

Trump’s description of the North American Free Trade Act has reached a new stratum of hyperbole: "The NAFTA deal signed by her husband's one of the worst deals ever made of any kind, signed by anybody. It's a disaster.”

"He choked," Clinton says about Trump, referring to his trip to Mexico when he didn't raise the issue of his famous with the president of Mexico.

I remember when Donald Trump said that Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation” rhetoric was too harsh and helped cost him the election.

'We Have Some Bad Hombres Here'

Drew Angerer / Getty

“We need strong borders,” Trump says when asked about immigration. The Republican nominee made border security a cornerstone of his campaign early on, but he’s largely stayed mum on the issue in the presidential updates. Tonight, he’s going a little further, saying that heroin is coming in through the border. “We have to keep strong borders, we have to keep drugs out of the country."

“We have some bad hombres here and we have to get them out,” Trump added.

Clinton is taking a libertarian tack as she defends her opposition to a ban on late-term abortions. She repeatedly says "the government" should not be making decisions for a woman facing the most difficult of choices. She cites her time in countries like China that force women to have abortions and Romania, where women are forced to carry fetuses to term.

Donald Trump Rebuts Donald Trump's Position on Abortion

Here is Donald Trump saying that partial birth abortion is okay with him:

Hillary Clinton’s Leftward Shift on Abortion

Trump says he would appoint pro-life judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade and leave it up to the states. But Hillary Clinton took a sharply opposed path, vowing to defend not only Roe, but also Planned Parenthood, which has faced repeated efforts by Republican legislators in recent years to defund it. Clinton’s stance is a marked shift for national-level Democrats from two decades ago, when Clinton's husband famously said abortion should be "safe, legal, and rare." Now Clinton is delivering a staunch defense of women and the tough choices they face when deciding whether or not to terminate a pregnancy.

Mike Pence has predicted on the campaign trail that if Trump is elected, the Supreme Court's landmark Roe. v. Wade would be overturned. “If we appoint strict constructionists to the Supreme Court as Donald Trump intends to do, I believe we will see Roe v. Wade consigned to the ash heap of history where it belongs,” Pence said in July.

Clinton, on the other hand, is unequivocal. "I will defend Roe v. Wade and I will defend women's rights to make their own health care decisions. We have come too far to have that turned back now."

What Exactly Does Trump Want to Happen to Roe v. Wade?

David Goldman / AP

Trump dances around the question about whether he actually wants the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. Under repeated questioning from Wallace, he says that he is "pro-life" and that if the Court overturns the decision, the abortion question would go back to the states. But he doesn't say directly that's what he wants to see happen.

Trump Lodges a False Charge Against Justice Ginsburg

Mike Groll / AP

Trump, with his first whopper of the night, states that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg "made some very, very inappropriate statements toward me and toward a tremendous number of people, many, many millions of people that I represent. And she was forced to apologize. And apologize she did. But these were statements that should never, ever have been made."

Ginsburg did harshly criticize Trump, calling him a "faker" and saying  "I can't imagine what this place would be—I can't imagine what the country would be—with Donald Trump as our president." But as NBC News’ Irin Carmon points out, Ginsburg never criticized his supporters.

Clinton: 'I Support the Second Amendment'

"I support the Second Amendment," Clinton says. She cites her 18 years in Arkansas and her time representing "upstate New York" in the Senate. She might be talking more about gun control than other Democratic presidential nominees in the last 20 years, but we are nowhere near a moment in American politics where there is a serious movement to seriously alter or even repeal the core right to own guns in this country.

Clinton even goes a step further, voicing support for the central holding in the Heller amendment that there is "an individual right" to bear arms. This was in dispute for decades before the Supreme Court ruling.

The Ghost of Antonin Scalia Visits the Debate

Benjamin Myers / Reuters

Looming over the 2016 election is Antonin Scalia's vacant seat, and tonight's debate is no different. Wallace opened with the Supreme Court, asking each candidate to lay out their visions for the Court's role in society. "I feel strongly that the Supreme Court needs to stand on the side of the American people, not on the side of powerful corporations and the wealthy," Clinton replied. "For me, that means that we need a Supreme Court that will stand up on behalf of women's rights, on behalf of the rights of the LGBT community, that will stand up and say no to Citizens United."

Trump, facing the same question, made it personal. "Something happened recently where Justice Ginsburg made some very, very inappropriate statements toward me and toward a tremendous number of people—many, many millions of people that i represent. And she was forced to apologize," Trump said. "And apologize she did." He then laid out a dire vision of the Constitution's future, claiming the Second Amendment was "under absolute siege" and "under such trauma" and that only his "pro-life" judges with a "conservative bent" can protect the nation's founding document.

Donald Trump mentioned 20 people he has named as prospective Supreme Court nominees. I’ve argued before that conservatives would be foolish to trust him in keeping that promise.

Clinton Wears (Red) White (and Blue)

John Locher / AP

Tonight, Hillary Clinton entered the debate hall in a white or cream pantsuit with her traditional Mandarin collar, a look that echoes her fashion choices on the night of her speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Tonight’s choice means Clinton will have worn red, white, and blue suits during the debates. A symbolic choice, indeed.

Her opponent Donald Trump went with a standard charcoal suit and red tie—a choice that repeats his decision from the second town hall debate.

"We need a Supreme Court that will uphold the Second Amendment," Trump added, saying that it is "under absolute siege." He then noted that the Second Amendment is "under such trauma."

Clinton calls on the Senate once again to confirm President Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland. But she hasn't addressed—yet—whether she would re-nominate Garland if the Senate doesn't confirm him in the lame-duck session after the election.

Wallace begins with a question on how the candidates view the Supreme Court and whether think it is "a living document." Clinton takes the expected hits at Citizens United and vows to protect the right to abortion. She says she wants the court to "stand on the side of the American people, not on the side of the powerful corporations and the wealthy."

Clinton's View of the Supreme Court

"Where do you want to see the court take the country, and what's your view on how the Constitution should be interpreted," Chris Wallace asked. Clinton said that we "need a Supreme Court that will stand up on behalf of women's rights, on behalf of the rights of the LGBT community, that will stand up and say no to Citizens United." She added that "at this point in our country's history it is important that we not reverse marriage equality, that we not reverse Roe v. Wade." She added that the kind of people she would want to nominate to the court would be in the tradition of "standing up to the powerful."

Students at Liberty pose for a pic. The message on the hat: "Build the Wall."
Emma Green / The Atlantic

At the Liberty University debate watch party, the student master of ceremonies celebrated Trump's success. "The press wants to make you think there's all this bad news," he shouted. "Trump is in a dead heat with Hillary Clinton."

Chris Wallace to Crowd: Shhhhhh!

John Locher / AP

Chris Wallace, the debate moderator, really, really, really wants the audience to be quiet. His ritual admonition ran a bit longer than usual.

“One of these people, three weeks from yesterday, will be the next president of the United States,” he said. “Through the course of the evening, you will hear your candidate say something absolutely wonderful, and you will want to cheer. Don't. I'm sure in the course of the next 1.5 hours, you will hear the other person say something that you don't like and you want to make noise. Don't.”

He surely wants to avoid a repeat of the last debate, where a restive crowd laughed and cheered, despite the best efforts of debate moderators Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz.

In a split from past protocol, the family members of the candidates did not shake hands. The Clinton campaign reportedly asked that new arrangements be made in light of the second presidential debate when Trump invited Clinton accusers.

Watching the Debate From Liberty University

At a debate watch party at Liberty University, students are milling around, surrounded by Trump / Pence signs. One freshman, Rylee Young, said she thinks it's important for conservatives to stand behind Trump. "I don't love Trump," she said, "but I think he stands with the party that stands with the values the Bible represents."

About this one thing I am confident: neither candidate will be insulting Jerry Tarkanian tonight at UNLV.

Did the Trump Campaign Just Preview Trump TV?

Carlos Barria / Reuters

Donald Trump is apparently looking for even more channels to get his message out.

Ahead of the start of the final debate, the Republican nominee’s Facebook page started live-streaming its own pre-debate analysis featuring former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn.

Brewer predicted that Trump will hit a “home run” at the debate tonight. “I certainly hope that Donald looks at Hillary and points out the error of her ways,” she added. “You need someone you can trust and obviously she is not that person.”

The live-stream then switched to an encouraging message from Ivanka Trump before playing a pro-Trump ad. Flynn appeared after to offer his predictions for what’s to come: “Hillary Clinton, she is the architect of failure,” he declared. “Where she has failed, Donald Trump will fix. Donald Trump is a builder of relationships, he’s a builder of just everything we’re talking about around the world.”

This isn’t the first time the Trump campaign has launched a Facebook live-stream ahead of the debate as a way of getting a message out there. Before the second presidential debate started, Trump himself appeared with Bill and Hillary Clinton accusers Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey, Paula Jones, and Kathy Shelton.

Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner has reportedly looked into the possibility of creating a Trump TV network. Tonight may have just offered a preview of what that could look like.

For the Record, D.C. Was Not Built in a Swamp

A federal building in Washington, D.C., in the early 1800s

As of late, Donald Trump has taken to appending the hashtag #DrainTheSwamp to his tweets about government reform (including this one, which he sent about four hours before the start of the debate). Some of his ideas may be surprisingly good, but his grasp of Washington, D.C.’s geography is not.

Contrary to popular belief, the seat of the federal government was not built on a swamp. Indeed, only around two percent of the city’s original land qualified as swampy. As Washington Post contributor Don Hawkins wrote last year, “for a riverside site, it was amazingly free of swampiness”:

As an urban historian, I’ve studied the early geography of Washington for 40 years, and all the swamps I have found are itty bitty little things that would never have given a less politically vulnerable city a bad name. Russia’s St. Petersburg was built in the Neva River. New Orleans and Chicago were built in swamps, but that’s not what people most remember about them.

The story that Washington was located in a swamp is a wild exaggeration based on selected facts. … For two centuries, our mythical swamp has been a handy introduction to arguments for lowering our expectations of government, the very business that the Constitution expected a Federal City to facilitate.

Washington may be hot and muggy for three-quarters of the year. But it is not a swamp.

The Thing About Meg Whitman

Stephen Lam / Reuters

The tech executive has not only crossed party lines to endorse Hillary Clinton, who invited her to tonight’s debate, but she’s also double-crossed Donald Trump supporter Chris Christie in the process.

In a former life (read: last year), Whitman, the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, was a supporter of the New Jersey governor’s bid for president. She served as a co-chair of his campaign’s national finance team; donated to a pro-Christie super PAC, America Leads; and hosted a fundraiser for him at her home. She was, in part, returning a favor: When Whitman herself ran for California governor in 2010, Christie was a supporter.

But this past winter, Whitman watched her former ally endorse Donald Trump, and it soured their relationship. Here’s The New York Times on her decision to condemn the governor’s decision:

“Chris Christie’s endorsement of Donald Trump is an astonishing display of political opportunism,” Ms. Whitman, who was a national finance co-chair of the Christie campaign, said in the statement.

“Donald Trump is unfit to be president,” Ms. Whitman said. “He is a dishonest demagogue who plays to our worst fears. Trump would take America on a dangerous journey. Christie knows all that and indicated as much many times publicly. The governor is mistaken if he believes he can now count on my support, and I call on Christie’s donors and supporters to reject the governor and Donald Trump outright. I believe they will. For some of us, principle and country still matter.”

After endorsing Trump, Christie became an unexpectedly enthusiastic surrogate for his former rival, and was named to lead his White House transition team. Whitman, in turn, morphed into a Clinton backer, like other prominent Republicans who’ve forsaken the GOP nominee.  

Will Trump Be Happy as a Pig in Mud?

Heinz-Peter Bader / Reuters

“I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig,” the labor mediator Cyrus Ching liked to say. “You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

Donald Trump has spent the days since the last presidential debate following each statement with one slightly more outrageous than the one before. And, as my colleague Nora Kelly notes below, he’s invited an unusual assortment of guests to join him in the audience this evening. Most campaigns dole out seats as favors to donors, or on occasion, to dramatize their candidate’s messages. Trump will reportedly seat Malik Obama, Marcus Luttrell, James O’Keefe, and the former fiancee of Ambassador Chris Stevens in the crowd.

One response might be to rise above such stunts. Instead, the Clinton campaign has reportedly invited Mark Cuban, a billionaire critic of Trump’s; Kareem Abdul-Jabar, who has criticized his proposal to ban Muslim immigration; and Meg Whitman, a prominent conservative turned Clinton backer.

It’s not clear what Clinton is up to. But if she’s trying to sling a little mud in Trump’s direction, she may find that only one of them is made happier by the exchange.

The Debate Guest Lists Have Grown

Mark Kauzlarich / Reuters

My colleagues have already noted some of the guests who’ve been invited to the debate, including a Bill Clinton accuser, Barack Obama’s half-brother, and the mother of a man killed in the 2012 Benghazi attack, all of whom are guests of Donald Trump. By Wednesday afternoon, Mark Cuban and Meg Whitman, both wealthy Trump detractors, were widely reported to be guests of Hillary Clinton. Per NBC News’ Katy Tur, Trump’s list also expanded earlier Wednesday to include Marcus Luttrell of Lone Survivor fame; a few of the “Angel Moms,” whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants; and the onetime fiancee of Libya Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was also killed in Benghazi.

But wait—there’s more.  

In the last couple hours, reporters have revealed the names of some other expected attendees, all familiar names:

Hindsight being 20-20, the Commission on Presidential Debates should probably reconsider this guest-bringing practice for the next election. The candidates have ostensibly used it to throw off their opponents—Clinton’s Cuban is a Trump troll, and the Republican nominee invited women to the last debate who have accused Hillary and Bill Clinton of intimidation, harassment, or worse. But so far, the guest lists don’t seem to have rattled the candidates much at all, at least not once they’re on stage.

My colleague, Vann Newkirk, suggested to me earlier that the Trump team in particular might be trying to distract reporters and onlookers from its candidate’s performance. That makes sense, given that some of the campaign’s guests have no real relationship to Hillary Clinton. Palin, for example, was an early Trump supporter, but has been fairly quiet in recent months. O’Keefe, the conservative activist, is perhaps best known for his hidden-camera work targeting Planned Parenthood and ACORN. These names will generate headlines (and blog posts like this one) today, but they won’t be consequential to the proceedings.

Is This Fox's Moment?

Andrew Harnik / AP

Tonight’s presidential debate marks an important moment for Fox News, as one of its very own moderates the debate for the first time in a general election.

Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace will take the stage on Wednesday, after a turbulent time for the network. Fox News’ longtime chairman, Roger Ailes, recently stepped down amid sexual harassment allegations against him that reports suggested also implicated other high-ranking executives at the network. Earlier this month, there also appeared to be some in-fighting between one of its star anchors, Megyn Kelly, and one of its most popular right-wing pundits, Sean Hannity. So, as The New York Times put it: “[F]or the team of Fox anchors and producers here this week, Mr. Wallace’s star turn is a welcome source of pride. And, maybe, some relief.”

To be sure, this isn’t the first time Wallace has moderated a debate this election cycle. He also moderated three Republican primary debates alongside his colleagues, Kelly and Bret Baier. But his approach this time around may be different.

When Fox News’ Howard Kurtz asked Wallace if he would fact-check the candidates, Wallace said “that’s not my job.” He added: “I do not believe it is my job to be a truth squad. It’s up to the other person to catch them on that.” Wallace suggested recently that he’s rather leave it to the candidates to keep each other in check. Still, his statement likely comes as welcome news to Trump, whose remarks and assertions have frequently strayed from the truth. Wallace was acknowledged for his tough questioning of Trump during a Republican primary debate in March.

At the very least, Wallace is well aware of his responsibility on Wednesday night. "I take it very seriously," Wallace told Baier on Sunday. "This is not a TV show. This is part of civics, the Constitution, if you will, in action, because this is helping millions of people decide who we're going to elect as the next president."

At Least Trump Still Believes in Trump

Joshua Roberts / Reuters

Forget the polls—Donald J. Trump wants you to know he still thinks he’s going to win.

The USC/L.A. Times tracking poll reports that even Trump voters are starting to doubt his odds—particularly those who are college educated, or reside in households earning more than $75,000 per year. Trump, as he frequently reminds audience, graduated from Wharton. And so long as we’re counting total income, and not taxable income, he can comfortably be assumed to clear the income threshold, too. But in this case, he defies the odds.

“Right now, he really, really thinks he’s going to win,” his campaign CEO Steve Bannon told CNN on Wednesday.

Either that’s boilerplate bluster, or Trump is the salesman who has started to believe his own pitch. We’ve been through this before—in 2012, Mitt Romney was persuaded that the polls were skewed, and that he was on the path to victory. It’s hard for a presidential nominee to admit when the odds are against them. But it’s also hard to win when you stop trusting the data that helps any candidate map a path to victory.

Bill Clinton Accuser Leslie Millwee Will Reportedly Attend Tonight's Debate

Then-Governor Clinton on the Today show
Nancy Kaye / AP

Leslie Millwee, a woman who has publicly accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault, will attend the presidential debate this evening, according to BuzzFeed. The report cites “a source with knowledge of the situation.”

Millwee alleged during an interview with the conservative website Breitbart, which was published on Wednesday, that Clinton sexually assaulted her on three different occasions in 1980 while she was working as a television reporter in Arkansas. In the interview, Millwee invoked Hillary Clinton while explaining why she did not come forward sooner. “I almost came out during the Monica Lewinsky and Kathleen Willey situation,” she said, but added that she “watched the way the Clintons, and Hillary, slandered those women, harassed them” and decided she “did not want to be part of that.”

Buzzfeed notes that “it’s unclear whose guest Millwee is at the debate.” But the Trump team has certainly been working to publicize the accounts of several other women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault, and who allege that Hillary Clinton tried to silence them. (PolitiFact recently gave a “mostly false” rating to Trump’s claim during the second presidential debate that Clinton “viciously” attacked women who have accused her husband of assault.) Steve Bannon, the Trump campaign’s CEO, was formerly the executive chairman of Breitbart.

Earlier on Wednesday, Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon predicted that Trump might bring up the latest accusations during tonight’s debate. “I don't know any of the circumstances behind those allegations,” he said during an interview on MSNBC. “I wouldn't be surprised if Donald Trump seeks to invoke this Breitbart report tonight or in the coming days. We expect that he'll do anything in these closing days. He has said that he's essentially practicing a scorched-Earth approach to this campaign.”

Updated, 7:18 p.m. ET: It looks like Millwee will be a guest of the Trump campaign after all.

The Strange Saga of Danney Williams, the Man Who's Probably Not Bill Clinton's Illegitimate Son

It’s only fitting that a debate in Las Vegas, the home of over-the-top circuses, should have an outlandish sideshow.

The sad, unsettling story of Danney Williams is filling that role. This afternoon, Yahoo’s Garance Franke-Ruta tweeted:

A website called Citizens for Trump posted what purports to be a press release from Williams, explaining his suit. Williams is a 30-year-old Little Rock, Arkansas, native. His story first appeared during the 1990s, as conservative operatives tried to dig up as much dirt on President Bill Clinton as they could. According to one account, Williams’s mother was a black, 24-year-old prostitute with whom then-Governor Clinton conceived a child. Clinton denied the story was true.

Matt Drudge’s Drudge Report broke the news that a paternity test had been conducted, using information from the Starr Report, which included DNA information derived from tests on Monica Lewinsky’s infamous blue dress. That test came back negative. Slate, however, argued that the test wouldn’t be conclusive enough for a court to decide paternity. (Snopes has a good rundown of the details.) There isn’t any other evidence linking Williams and Clinton; you can judge for yourself whether he bears a facial resemblance, but you have to squint pretty hard to even begin seeing it.

Williams resurfaced this year, with some Donald Trump backers—including, ironically, Drudge—once again airing stories about him. Ahead of the debate, there were rumors on Twitter that Trump might invite Williams to the debate as a guest, continuing on his strategy of maximum trolling. So far, those seem to be nothing more than fevered speculation. But Williams’s announced press conference adds a new level of bizarreness. As for Williams, he has a long rap sheet, including a felony conviction in a car-theft case, according to The Smoking Gun.

It’s unclear what a “paternity suit” would mean in this case—not child support, since Williams is a grown man. The Daily Mail quoted Williams as having told the tabloid The Globe that he just wanted Clinton to acknowledge him: “I read he doesn’t have long to live and I want to meet him face to face before he dies. I just want to shake his hand and say ‘Hi Dad,’ before he dies. I’d like to have a relationship with Chelsea, too. She’s my half-sister.” It’s hard to believe he’ll ever get that wish granted.

John Locher / AP

At long last, the 25th and final presidential debate of the 2016 election is here.

That’s right: There have been 24 previous debates over the past 14 months of this seemingly-endless campaign—12 Republican primary contests, nine Democratic match-ups, one vice-presidential debate, and the two other meetings between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

The race is in a very different place than on the day Clinton and Trump first debated three weeks ago at Hofstra University, when less than two points separated them in the polling average. Clinton’s convincing win and Trump’s subsequent collapse in the polls—aided by a steady stream of revelations and allegations about his past—have turned the election solidly, perhaps irreversibly, in the Democrat’s favor. She is now leading by more than seven points in the national polling average (with some surveys giving her a double-digit advantage), and she is ahead in enough swing states that winning more than 300 electoral votes on November 8 seems well within reach.

My colleague Yoni Appelbaum asked earlier today, “How low can Trump go?” He was referring to the Republican’s historically low poll numbers for a major-party nominee, but the question applies equally to tonight’s debate at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Trump threw the proverbial kitchen sink at Clinton in the town-hall debate last week in St. Louis.

He accused her of all manner of corruption; suggested he would throw her in jail over the private email server she maintained as secretary of state; said she had “hate in her heart”; and said Clinton should be “ashamed of herself” for how she responded to the women who accused her husband of sexual harassment and assault while he was governor and president. All of those verbal barbs came after Trump paraded three of Bill Clinton’s accusers into the debate hall as his guests. In the days since the debate, a steady stream of women have come forward to accuse Trump of exactly the kind of groping and assault that he bragged about to former Access Hollywood host Billy Bush in 2005.

What more can Trump say tonight? Will he continue to drag Clinton down into the mud with him, or will he try to attack her on the revelations from the hacked emails from her campaign chairman, John Podesta that were posted by Wikileaks? Trump previewed a more policy-focused message this week by releasing a five-point ethics and lobbying reform plan and calling for a Constitutional amendment to impose congressional term limits. And yet his campaign is also boasting about making another attempt to psyche Clinton out by bringing the mother of a Benghazi victim and President Obama’s estranged half-brother, Malik Obama, as guests.

His advisers have hinted that another mystery guest might be in store, although the real mystery is why Trump would think that bringing Obama’s half-brother would have any effect on Clinton. Anticipating another stunt, the Clinton campaign is reportedly insisting that President Bill Clinton and Trump’s family enter the debate hall separately so they do not have to shake hands, as they have done in the first two meetings. The New York Times also reported that Trump’s aides have prepared him to escalate attacks on Clinton’s character “and a focus on her health”—a strategy that would seem as risky as Trump’s decision to go after her husband in the last debate.

Lest anyone forget, Hillary Clinton will also be on the stage tonight. She delivered steady if unspectacular performances in the first two debates. At Hofstra, she successfully put Trump on the defensive and expertly laid a trap for him by telling the story of Alicia Machado, the Latina former Miss Universe who Clinton said Trump denigrated based on her weight and ethnicity; Trump spent the next week attacking her. In a stronger position in the second debate, Clinton was more cautious and passed up a number of opportunities to exploit Trump’s vulnerabilities.

With Fox News’s Chris Wallace moderating, expect Clinton to face more pointed questions about her own record and positions, such as the WikiLeaks emails, the FBI investigation into her server, and conflicts of interest with the Clinton Foundation. One of the six sections of the 90-minute debate is dedicated to the Supreme Court. One pressing question is whether Clinton will commit to renominating Judge Merrick Garland, who Republicans have blocked from taking the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia. She has equivocated in the past on that point. Wallace might also ask if either Clinton or Trump will apply a “litmus test” to their Supreme Court nominees, such as overturning Roe v. Wade (as conservatives want) or the Citizens United decision (as liberals demand).

In a sign of just how much the race has shifted in the last month, the most important question Wallace could ask Trump might be one he already answered in the first debate: Will he commit to honoring the results of the election, win or lose?

He said he “absolutely” would at Hofstra last month, but that was before he went around the country alleging that the election is “rigged.” Clinton has her own choice to make tonight. Will she continue to isolate Trump as a unique danger to the country and highlight the Republicans who have denounced him, or will she follow the lead of President Obama and top congressional Democrats by trying to link the entire GOP to his rise and accusing the party of abetting his cause?

With Clinton’s lead seemingly secure, Democrats have moved aggressively in a bid to rack up bigger gains in the House and Senate. If Clinton broadens her focus to Republicans more generally, it will be a sign of confidence in her own position, since doing could turn off some of the moderate GOP voters who have rallied to her side in recent weeks.