USA TODAY - Only in 2016 would the first drama of a presidential debate be whether or not the candidates would shake hands. They did not, neither before nor after. That is how ugly this campaign has become.
Here are some top takeaways from the 25th (counting primaries, of course) and last debate of the 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump might reject the result
This is really the ONLY takeaway. Asked directly whether he would accept the results of the election if he loses, Donald Trump replied: "I will tell you at the time, I will keep you in suspense."
Trump defenders went on the air immediately afterward, saying, "Yeah, but Al Gore didn't accept the result in 2000." That isn't really true. Florida stopped its recount and Gore challenged the process in court. When the courts were done, Gore conceded and told Democrats to accept George W. Bush's presidency.
At no point did Gore — nor any other presidential candidate in modern history — say that the system is so suspect that he couldn't commit in advance to accepting the result.
Who's your puppet?
An odd moment in the debate arrived as Hillary Clinton said Russia had hacked Democratic Party emails because Russian President Vladimir Putin would "rather have a puppet for president."
"No puppet. You’re the puppet," Trump shot back.
The GOP candidate then went further, rejecting the premise that Russia was behind the hacks. "She has no idea whether it's Russia, China or anybody else," Trump said. "She has no idea."
For the record, earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security released the following statement: "The U.S. Intelligence Community is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations."
It began with actual substance
In the early stages of Wednesday's Las Vegas debate, Clinton and Trump had sharp exchanges on, believe it or not, issues.
In a segment on the Supreme Court, Trump and Clinton sparred over gun rights and abortion rights. Though Trump has broke with party orthodoxy on some issues, he hewed to the traditional Republican planks on these.
“I am a very strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment," the GOP nominee said, noting that he was "very proud to have the endorsement" of the National Rifle Association, while Clinton jabbed at him for receiving the group's support.
On abortion, Clinton stated "I strongly support Roe v. Wade," the landmark 1973 court case that guaranteed women the right abortion. Trump would not say directly whether he believes the ruling should be overturned, but he said it will be because "I am putting pro-life justices on the court ... it will go back to the states and the states will then make a determination."
Clear policy differences. No name calling.
There was also an interesting exchange over the the Clinton and Trump charitable foundations, but really, both candidates dodged the hard questions. Neither had been pressed on the ethical questions swirling around their foundations, and moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News gets kudos for at least trying to get some answers on the subject. Clinton, asked about allegations of "pay-for-play" at the Clinton Foundation, where donors were also lobbying the State Department, instead went on a spiel about the great charitable work the foundation has done all around the world.
"It's a criminal enterprise," Trump shot back.
But Trump was no more forthcoming about his foundation, which The Washington Post has exposed as using mostly other people's money while paying for Trump's personal legal liabilities and expenses. "People contribute, I contribute, the money goes one hundred percent — one hundred percent — goes to different charities including a lot of military. I don't get anything I don't buy boats, I don't buy planes whatever happens."
Democrats love Trump off-script
For at least a little while, Trump acted as a more conventional, measured candidate, sticking to policy. But as the night wore on, he wandered off script and started interjecting Trumpisms that Democrats will no doubt use to fire up women and minorities against him. Discussing immigration, Trump said he would focus first on deporting undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes — fair enough — but then he added "we have some bad hombres here." At several points as Clinton was speaking, Trump interjected "wrong" — sounding exactly like Alec Baldwin's parody of him on Saturday Night Live. And then the coup de grâce: When Clinton went after him for not paying income taxes, Trump sneered "she's such a nasty woman." You can almost guarantee that will be in a campaign ad by dinnertime Thursday.
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