We now have confirmation that Donald Trump may not accept the outcome of the election. When given the opportunity to say what should be automatic for any presidential contender, that he will of course concede the election if he loses, Trump instead told America to stay tuned. And so the Republican nominee for president effectively disqualified himself in front of the nation at the third and mercifully final debate of this election year.
Often contentious, at times surprisingly substantive, tonight’s bout featured a preternaturally composed Hillary Clinton alternately offering a vision for her administration and goading her opponent into fits of rage. If Donald Trump were capable of taking political advice, he would have controlled his body language, modulated his tone and trained his message on the doubts voters have about his opponent.
But Trump’s campaign has never been an exercise in rationality so much as a vehicle for channeling grievance. Trump won the nomination in part because of his ability to project a seemingly limitless capacity for feeling slighted onto a Republican electorate hungry for someone to acknowledge their anger. This characteristic has not worked with a general electorate looking for a candidate to articulate a positive vision for changing the country, and he has not been able to turn it off because it fundamentally reflects who he is.
As Trump’s campaign has gone into a tailspin these past weeks he has resorted to acting out in a desperate effort to assert his dominance. His behavior cannot be understood in terms of strategy or tactics because his words and actions make no sense if his objective is to appeal to voting groups he needs to win. As he loses voters he escalates his rhetoric, and as he escalates his rhetoric he loses more voters. So now he has talked himself into a corner where he has to consider rejecting the outcome because he cannot accept a loss of any kind. His campaign now is little more than a reflection of his ego.
Like an episode of a reality TV show that’s gone on too long, tonight’s debate left a weary nation ready to move on to the final episode where they get to vote the belligerent contestant off the island. For the sake of the republic, let’s hope he goes.