WASHINGTON – It is tempting to laugh at Donald Trump’s eruptions and outrages because he is such a cartoonish buffoon. But he gave chilling evidence Wednesday night of why he poses a grave and urgent threat to our democracy – and why he must be defeated.
There have been many bitterly contested elections in our nation’s 240-year history, but never has the loser refused to accept the outcome and claimed the presidency was stolen by fraud. Trump threatened, in advance, to do just that. “I will keep you in suspense,” he said, proving once again that he cares more about protecting his fragile ego than serving the country he asks to lead.
Debate moderator Chris Wallace gave Trump two opportunities to say he will accept the people’s verdict. Both times he defiantly refused – and in the process disqualified himself as a candidate for the nation’s highest office.
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Not that he hadn’t already given us a thousand and one reasons he should never be president, mind you. But how can any Republican official support a man who so challenges the very legitimacy of our democratic system? To all who, like House Speaker Paul Ryan, have shown disdain for Trump but made the political calculation not to fully renounce him, I ask this: Why should anyone, ever again, take seriously your idealistic rhetoric about America being a “shining city upon the hill” and a beacon to the world? You are supporting a man who spits on your ideals.
That moment completely overshadowed the rest of the debate, as far as I’m concerned. Trump must not be president and deserves to lose in a landslide on Nov. 8. Voters should send him back to his Trump Tower aerie and administer the cruelest possible punishment: ignore him.
Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, once again demonstrated her preternatural poise and command of the issues – and, yes, also her ability to get under Trump’s exceedingly thin skin.
Those praising Trump’s performance in the first half-hour of the debate are grading him on a generous curve. For a short while he was able to enunciate standard GOP positions – against abortion, against gun control – without making any major pratfalls, but also without any notable sophistication or subtlety. Clinton defended Roe v. Wade and advocated sensible gun restrictions in terms that seemed intended to appeal to Trump’s female voters, if he has any left.
On immigration, Clinton outlined the sensible centrist solution – border control, deporting criminals and providing a path to legalization and citizenship for the millions of undocumented migrants already here – that should have been adopted long ago. Trump, by contrast, began to go off the rails, first denying but then later affirming his pledge of mass deportations. And when he talked about immigrants who commit crimes, he called them “bad hombres” – an apparent attempt to drive his party’s Latino support even closer to zero.
When the debate turned to Trump’s bizarre admiration for Vladimir Putin, he claimed that the Russian leader, “from everything I see, has no respect for this person,” indicating Clinton.
“Well, that’s because he’d rather have a puppet as president of the United States,” Clinton snapped back. This, incredibly, is what followed:
TRUMP: No puppet. No puppet.
CLINTON: And it’s pretty clear …
TRUMP: You’re the puppet!
CLINTON: It’s pretty clear you won’t admit …
TRUMP: No, you’re the puppet.
Any kindergarten teacher could see that Trump would have benefited at that point from a spell in the time-out chair. Unfortunately none was furnished by the Commission on Presidential Debates, so he blathered on and went steadily downhill from there. He lost the ability to wait his turn, instead interrupting with “no” or “wrong” when Clinton was making a point. He denied ever saying that nations such as Japan and South Korea should develop their own nuclear weapons rather than rely on the U.S. shield, even though there is videotape of him saying precisely that (BEG ITAL)in an interview with moderator Wallace.(END ITAL)
He maintained that all the women who have accused him of groping or other unwanted sexual advances are lying, claiming improbably, “Nobody has more respect for women than I do. Nobody.”
“Everybody” would be closer to the truth.
We knew that Trump is unfit to be commander in chief. We knew that he is only superficially acquainted with his own proposed policies, foreign and domestic. What we didn’t know is that he has such utter contempt for American democracy. He’s not a statesman, he’s a spoiled brat, and the nation should turn him over its collective knee.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is email@example.com.