Trump’s ‘suspense’ theater

If it wasn’t clear already that Donald Trump will go his own way in the final weeks of the campaign, no matter what some leaders of his party think, it should be now.

At Wednesday night’s debate, he stunned some Republicans as well as Democrats by saying he would keep the country “in suspense” over whether he’d accept an election result that showed him the loser to Hillary Clinton. He opened a rally in Ohio Thursday with an in-your-face taunt of critics:

“I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election” — he paused for effect — “if I win.” (Video here)

Trump’s drumbeat about the threat of a rigged election has stoked worries he would incite unrest among his supporters — a few of whom speak of violent rebellion.

Trump on Thursday spoke of legal options: “I would ... reserve my right to contest or file a legal challenge in the case of a questionable result.” Given the exaggerated claims Trump is spinning about massive voter fraud, the bar for “questionable” could be low.

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Feel the squirm

The toughest GOP rebukes of Trump came from those who have already distanced themselves from him, such as Arizona Sen. John McCain, the party’s 2008 presidential candidate, who lost to Barack Obama.

“A concession isn’t just an exercise in graciousness. It is an act of respect for the will of the American people,” McCain said.

But Trump’s threat was also too much for Maine Gov. Paul Le Page, a strong supporter who sympathizes with the “rigged” complaints.

“Not accepting the results I think is just — it’s a stupid comment. I mean, come on, get over yourself,” Le Page said.

Making America cringe again

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who sat between them, called it the “iciest place on the planet.” The toxicity of the presidential campaign wasn’t left outside when Trump and Clinton spoke at the annual Al Smith dinner at the Waldorf.

The tradition is for candidates to make jokes at their own expense and take lighthearted pokes at their opponent. But Trump was as gentle as a lead pipe with such one-liners as “Here she is tonight in public, pretending not to hate Catholics.” The ensuing booing stunned veteran dinner attendees.

Clinton did more self-deprecation — “Usually I charge a lot for speeches like this” — but took a few sharp jabs, too, ascribing Trump’s TelePrompTer mishaps to it being “even harder when you’re translating from the original Russian.” See Emily Ngo’s story for Newsday. (Video here.)

The take-away: Unkept secrets

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This has been the year of unauthorized disclosures, data leaks and viral video shaping the national conversation, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison. Examples include Trump’s 1995 tax returns and the WikiLeaks hack of the Clinton campaign that uncovered her Wall Street speeches.

Dems recorded talking of tricks

Candid-camera recordings from the conservative Project Veritas show a Democratic operative talking about the goal of goading Trump supporters into attacking agitators -- and even arranging for non-eligible people to vote.

The Clinton campaign organization has of course distanced itself from the talk.   

Obamas stump against Trump

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President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama both visited battleground states on Clinton’s behalf on Thursday.

In Florida’s Dade County, the president urged voters to “reject somebody who proves himself unfit to be president every single day in every single way.”

Michelle Obama, in Phoenix, said Trump is “a candidate whose vision for our country is completely and utterly lacking in hope.” Recent polls have shown Clinton edging ahead in Arizona, usually a Republican state.

Legal challenge primer

Presidential election results can be contested, but not at the national level, because they are administered on a state-by-state basis. Here’s a guide from CNN.

What else is happening

  • Another woman is accusing Trump of inappropriate touching. Karena Virginia said the incident occurred while she was attending the U.S. Open tennis tournament in 1998. Trump, through a spokeswoman, denied it.
  • If Democrats plan to win the Senate, New Hampshire and the Kelly Ayotte seat might be key.
  • About 69 million people watched the final presidential debate Wednesday night, according to Nielsen’s estimate.
  • Debate moderator Chris Wallace said he was “disappointed” when Roger Ailes became a Trump adviser soon after departing as Fox News chairman.
  • The Television Academy disputed Trump assertions, revived during the debate, that the Emmy awards are rigged. Trump tweeted complaints of bias when his show “The Apprentice” didn’t win.
  • GOP pollster Whit Ayres told The Washington Post that Trump “blew his last chance to turn it around” at the Las Vegas debate. He and other Republicans are more hopeful about limiting damage to the party’s congressional majorities.
  • Trump's a laughing stock among Latinos for what he said during Wednesday's debate. GOP strategist Ana Navarro: "At least now we know that Donald Trump has two Spanish words in his vocabulary. Hombre and taco."