Never has Donald Trump looked so wrong and so dangerous as he did in the final debate against Hillary Clinton, huffing and puffing and sweaty-upper-lip sniffing over nuclear weapons.
He overstated Russia’s nuclear might. He disowned his own words. He lost his barely contained temper when Clinton said she finds the prospect of Trump’s finger on the nuclear button “terrifying.”
"Look, she's been proven to be a liar on so many ways,” Trump pouted. “This is just another lie.”
It was no lie. Clinton simply had the temerity to quote Trump himself to show how little he knows or cares about the fragile set of post-World War II agreements that have contained nuclear proliferation. She said Trump would let non-nuclear countries go nuclear. "There's no quote,” he said. “You won't find a quote from me."
Yes, we will.
A few months ago, Trump said, “more countries, such as Japan, South Korea or even Saudi Arabia, may need to develop their own nuclear weapons.”
At a rally in April, Trump told supporters that if conflict between Japan and nuclear-armed North Korea were to break out, “it would be a terrible thing but if they do, they do”.
“Good luck,” he added. “Enjoy yourself, folks.”
That’s scary talk.
So scary that Clinton is likely to win the presidency despite a nagging inauthenticity and dishonesty that moderator Chris Wallace sought to expose. He asked about her email scandal and the many conflicts of interests that entangled her state department and the Clinton Foundation. She dodged his question.
Wallace also pressed Clinton to explain why she publicly opposes trade policies that she privately embraced during paid speeches before well-heeled audiences.
“Thank you,” Trump said to Wallace, anxious to watch Clinton squirm.
She skittered. “I was talking energy,” Clinton said, weakly explaining that she was talking only of energy grids crossing borders. Then she shifted the subject to WikiLeaks, the hackers who exposed her disingenuousness.
“The Russian government has engaged in espionage against Americans,” she said. “This has come from Putin himself.”
She challenged Trump to accept U.S. intelligence findings that Russia is behind the leaks—he has essentially called them liars—and to condemn the acts.
“That was a great pivot from the fact that she wants open borders,” Trump said, pivoting from her challenge. He rambled about Putin and puppets and a few other things until Wallace pinned him down: Do you condemn foreign interference of foreign elections?
“By Russia,” Trump reluctantly conceded, “or by anybody else.”
It was an astonishing exchange. Why would any American, must less a potential president, find it so hard to accept the findings of U.S. intelligence officials and condemn a foreign country for trying to influence a U.S. election?
Worse, he refused to follow the example of House Speaker Paul Ryan and his own running mate, Mike Pence, and say that he will accept the results of the election – win or lose. No presidential candidate has ever attacked the foundations of democracy: a peaceful transition of power.
Will Trump accept the election results? Will he heed the will of the people?
“I will look at it at the time,” he said.