Donald Trump’s lonely moment of truth

He began the debate sticking to a script, then he returned to type, and by the end came the realization: he is not a president

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump takes the stage for the third presidential debate at University of Nevada in Las Vegas, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016, for the third presidential debate. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump takes the stage for the third presidential debate at University of Nevada in Las Vegas, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016, for the third presidential debate. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Does Donald Trump know that he is losing the election?

His campaign team won’t tell him that, I’m sure of it. He is surrounded by people who rely entirely on his favour; the flotsam and jetsam of the American political world, the unemployables and the bottom feeders. People like Stephen Bannon, the anti-Semitic conspiracy peddler from Breitbart News, or Roger Ailes, the disgraced former head of Fox.

And Trump is the sort of captain who throws you out of the life raft if you suggest the ship has sunk. He has changed campaign managers an unprecedented three times so far, and I assume each tried to be even more reassuring than the last.

The question is, when Trump’s people say it’s going great, does he believe them? He is no fool. In some ways, he’s a genius. He has the ability of a great entertainer to understand an audience and play a crowd. His instincts for self-promotion are preternatural. He’s also well educated. All of this is to say the man can surely understand polling data. And his frequent attacks on the polls mean he has indeed seen them.

RELATED: Our live analysis of the third presidential debate

So, when Trump reads that he is now trailing far behind Clinton, at a level lower than any Republican presidential candidate in 80 years, does he believe it? When the New York Times, FiveThirtyEight, and RealClearPolitics all write he has less than a 15 per cent chance of winning, does he wince?

This is what I was wondering when Trump and Hillary Clinton walked on to the debate stage tonight. Would Trump, knowing he is losing the election, use the night to expand his base, to sway moderates? Or does he believe he is already marching to victory, and would therefore continue to pander to his base with his well-worn call-and-response routine?

Earlier in the day, when his team announced the list of sideshow attractions they were bringing to the debate—Obama’s Muslim half-brother, a woman accusing Bill Clinton of rape, the widow of a soldier killed at Benghazi—I assumed it would be more of the same; more sneering and snide remarks, more wild accusations and even wilder lies.

But that’s not what happened. At first. Trump came prepared. He was serious, even subdued. And it worked. For the first half of the debate, Trump came off as a relatively reasonable contender for the Oval Office. He avoided any serious gaffes, kept his rhetoric under control, and did well on a few exchanges, mostly notably on the border and the problem of illegal immigration.

It looked, for a long while, like Trump knew he needed to win tonight, not just in the hearts of his fanatical base, but in the eyes of the undecided voters, of the moderate Republicans, and the disenchanted Democrats. It looked like he was trying.

With some effort, Trump was holding his own. He was not as well practised as Clinton, that was obvious (though inexplicable given they both received the debate topics in advance). And he avoided nuance and detail. But, nonetheless, Trump was competing.

Clinton watched Trump perform almost dispassionately. And then she ended it. She began to bait him. First by saying he was Putin’s puppet. He couldn’t help himself. He literally sputtered and with a red face, childishly retorted, “No! You’re the puppet!”

Clinton couldn’t even hide a smile. It was too easy. Trump tried to be presidential. He knew he was losing. He wanted to win the debate. He wanted to do what his campaign team, as timid as they might be, surely hinted was necessary: to keep his cool, to make his case, to fight for voters. But he just couldn’t do it. And Clinton knew that.

For the rest of the debate, Trump returned to type. He was angry, resentful and glared at Clinton as she spoke, refuting accusations with obstinate denials. He got more and more worked up. When pressed, he refused, unbelievably, to say whether he would even accept the results of the election. And near the end, he fumed and called Clinton “a nasty woman.”

For the first time, I actually felt sympathy for Trump. It was clear that he walked onto the stage knowing he was losing. He began the debate knowing who he is and that he needs to change. And he tried. But he just couldn’t. Trump is Trump. He’s a father. He’s a businessman. He’s a reality TV star. But he is not a U.S. president. And no amount of money or ambition can change that.

There was a moment, after it was all over, after he had left the podium, and shaken the moderator’s hand, when he stood alone on the stage and watched Clinton as she waded into the audience, and he looked old and beaten. For that one moment he looked like a man who knew who he was, and who he wasn’t. It’s a moment we all eventually face. And tonight, Trump did too.


Donald Trump’s lonely moment of truth

  1. Two far sadder things than that…..

    1) They didn’t have anyone any better

    2) That anyone…..anyone at all…..backed him.

    • #2 is the key I think. The GOP did have better candidates (even another Bush Boy would have been better), but none of them could tap into the bone-deep Republican voter ignorance, selfishness and anger. As a bone-deep ignorant, selfish and angry man himself, Trump was the “natural”.

      • I dunno. Last time I figured they had two better than Romney….but this time Wow. Really bad.They don’t seem to have worked on a sensible programme……or on grooming any decent possible candidates. I mean, jaysys, Carson, Cruz….?

        Paul Ryan would ave been better….even tho he looks like Eddie Munster

        Anyway, that’s how they get all the crackpots running.

      • Quote; “… the bone-deep Republican voter … anger”. I think that you’ve stumbled, accidentally, on the less-than-secret answer. The populous U.S.A. are angry with status quo … even those who are strategically voting for the Democrats (in order to obstruct Mr. Trump). Thus, if Ms. Clinton wins, she would be wise to make a note of that.

    • Re #1, my gut feel is that he benefited from voting splitting early on due to the ridiculously large number of candidates. This gave him a lead that was tough to overcome once the number of candidates had been whittled down to a more sensible number.

  2. So, Trump is not presidential. But, Hillary Clinton, who destroyed 33,000 emails AFTER they had been subpoenaed by Congress, and who exposed the inner workings of the State Dept and the White House to foreign interests hostile to American interests by working almost exclusively, while SecState, through an illegal and unsecured server is? Trump isn’t presidential, but Clinton, who created a easy venue for foreign interests to make her beholden to them as President by working through an unsecured server which has allowed those interests to know the inner workings of the Clinton camp and then exploit the weaknesses exposed is presidential? Trump isn’t presidential, but Clinton, who has also allowed herself to become exposed to potential foreign pressure via large contributions to the Clinton Foundation, which her emails have shown to have been used as a conduit to the State Dept, is presidential? Trump isn’t presidential, but Clinton, who has at the very least, engaged in a conspiracy to withhold from Congressional inspection of a large number of emails that she is wholly aware are in the possession of potentially hostile foreign actors, even though having Congress examine them could potentially forestall any possibility of a hostile interest using them against a Clinton White House without the public or Congressional knowledge is presidential?
    Right. Where’s Allen Funt?

    • Filming you

    • Bill Greenwood gets the Word Salad of the Day Award.

      • Yes, but it’s an honest word salad. Nothing there that’s not true.

        • None of it is true Bill…..or even relevant. You know that.

          • Well then who exactly is it that the American media has written extensively about who destroyed their emails, after they were requested by a Congressional committee? Pee Wee friggin’ Herman?

          • Bill, Hillary could dance naked in the moonlight and it wouldn’t matter a toss.

            The JOB is running the country.

  3. However, Emily, the first and most important responsibility of that JOB is upholding, protecting, and defending the Constitution. It takes a tremendous amount of wilfull blindness (I’m lookin’ at you Gilmore) to fail to grasp that Hillary Clinton has nothing but contempt for the Constitution of the United States.
    It also speaks loudly of an illness within the Canadian journalism community when you can spend days perusing Canadian news websites and almost never find a mainstream writer willing to take a long hard look at the Obama legacy (rampant lawlessness via politicization of several federal agencies including the IRS and EPA) and foresee the weaponization of that lawlessness against political opponents and the common citizenry by the unholy vindictiveness that is the greatest hallmark of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

    • No, it’s running the country.

      By the sound of it, you’ve never read the constitution……theirs or ours.

      • There’s an argument to be made regarding amendments to both Greco-Roman constitutions.

      • Not only have I read and familiarized myself with the US Constitution, I have read extensively about the writers of said document.

        • What on earth for?

          Find something more useful to do than reading doc that are centuries old and no longer relevant.