Never has a presidential election revolved so much around human anatomy and, to be specific, genitalia, which made it appropriate that it culminated Wednesday with a debate here in Las Vegas.
That’s a shame, because for 45 minutes or so, the debate was the most rational, issue-oriented one of the three held between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. It’s a low bar given the previous forums, but the two candidates had substantive exchanges on the Supreme Court, abortion policy, gun control, immigration, Russia, the economy and so on.
There was no talk of jailing the opposition, or digs at marital difficulties. It was a conversation in which the two candidates thoroughly and sternly outlined their differences.
And then it fell apart, when one candidate ― Trump ― refused to say that he would follow a 240-year tradition of accepting the results of the presidential election if he is the loser. “That’s horrifying,” Clinton told him. That one moment, more than any other, stood out as chilling. And it undermines whatever chance Trump had to present a more moderate face in the remaining two-plus weeks.
Clinton, for her part, turned in her most impassioned performance, beginning with an answer on abortion policy that was the most eloquent defense of reproductive freedom ever delivered on a debate stage.
Her command of the stage often struck a sharp contrast with Trump, who looked low-energy for the first half of the debate, as if the realization was dawning on him that his vanishingly small path to the White House was getting even narrower.
For a while, this created the most unusual of features: a discussion that lacked vitriol. But high roads have been infrequently taken during this election. And by the debate’s midpoint, the all-too-familiar rancor had returned: talk of sexual abuse, rigged elections and character-shaming.
As the night went on, Trump seemed unable to bottle up the rage that has so often taken his debate performances off the rails. “Such a nasty woman,” he said of Clinton. At one point, he complained that he should have won an Emmy for his role on The Apprentice. At another moment, Trump boasted that nobody has more respect for women than he does, and Wallace had to hush the laughter from the crowd.