Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally in...

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Asheville, N.C., Sept. 12, 2016. Credit: AP

Donald Trump is clearly trying to work the referees in his first one-on-one debate against Hillary Clinton, slated for Sept. 26 at Hofstra University.

Trump demanded to be allowed the first-ever privilege of debating Hillary Clinton with nobody moderating.

This, of course, isn’t about to happen.

Only a week ago, Trump told reporters of the moderators chosen for his three debates, “I like them. I respect the moderators. Yeah, I do respect them.”

But on Monday, he suddenly launched yet another evidence-free accusation that someone is rigging the game against him.

Trump talked about his friend, basketball coach Bobby Knight.

“Bobby would do numbers on the referee and toward the end of the game, they would just sort of, you know . . . maybe subconsciously, they’d give him the calls and, you know, he was a master at it,” Trump said Monday.

Trump sounded like he was revealing his own strategy.

Ostensibly, Trump was accusing the Clinton camp of doing it.

He cited last week’s back-to-back NBC candidate interviews at a veterans’ forum, after which the network’s Matt Lauer caught widespread criticism for letting false Iraq War claims from Trump go unchallenged while spending a lot of Clinton’s time on her email mess.

“They’re saying about how Matt Lauer was nice to Trump,” Trump said on CNBC. “Well, now the new person’s gonna try to be really hard on Trump just to show, you know, the establishment what he can do.

“So I think it’s very unfair what they’re doing.

“So I think we should have a debate with no moderators — just Hillary and I sitting there talking.”

The “new person” referenced by Trump is NBC’s Lester Holt, the scheduled Hofstra moderator.

Back in June, Holt conducted a no-nonsense interview with Trump in which he asked for backup of a certain claim he’d made about hacked emails.

“I think I read that,” Trump said. “And I heard it, and somebody. . . . ”

“Where?” Holt pressed him.

“ . . . that also gave me that information. I will report back to you. I’ll give it to you.”

Trump’s campaign later offered a consultant’s report from Washington that didn’t really back up his point, as NBC reported.

Trump’s repeated, pre-emptive claims of being cheated — combined with continual pouts about media coverage — will sound to his detractors like he’s being a sore loser before he loses.

But if he doesn’t do well, it gives him someone to blame.

Back in March, he hurled nasty insults at Megyn Kelly of Fox, who challenged him during a debate.

Before he won the nomination, Trump complained that the Republican primaries were rigged. He pouted to the point where an irritated GOP Chairman Reince Priebus suggested Trump knock it off.

Last month, Trump warned of efforts to “rig” the general election, evoking the old lore of widespread voter fraud. Democrats took this is a signal from Trump to his supporters to try to intimidate minority voters from going to the polls.

Aside from Trump’s newly minted anti-moderator stance, there might be other oddities ahead. In his 1997 book “The Art of the Comeback,” Trump calls shaking hands “one of the curses of American society.

“I happen to be a clean hands freak. I feel much better after I thoroughly wash my hands, which I do as much as possible.”

Maybe that means he’ll refuse to shake hands with a pneumonia-infected Hillary Clinton when they meet.

Perhaps he can hand out disinfectant wipes on stage.

Nearly anything is possible. The only surprises in this election occur when an expected event comes off without a surprise.


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