Critic's Notebook: Donald Trump Shocks and Stumbles, Hillary Clinton Stays Steady in Final Presidential Debate

Republican nominee Donald Trump attempted to turn the upcoming election into a giant cliffhanger, while Hillary Clinton kept her cool, once again, in the third and final debate.

The third and final presidential debate (Thank you, Jesus!) proved that the American people have been worrying needlessly about the upcoming election. Apparently, it doesn't matter who we vote for, or even if we vote at all. At least, according to Donald Trump, who refused to say that he would accept the election results if he lost.

"I will look at it at the time," he said ominously, managing to undercut the entire framework of American democracy in a single sentence. Well, that's not entirely fair. Trump went on to add, about whether he would abide by the traditional concept of a peaceful transfer of power, "I will keep you in suspense."

Yes, befitting his reality show credentials, Trump has turned the American presidential election into a cliffhanger. No matter what the results, he clearly intends to show up at the White House on Jan. 20, 2017, with moving trucks in tow. He also said about Clinton, "She should not be allowed to run for the presidency." Especially since she's beating him.  

Although the competition is fierce, this may have been the most alarming moment yet in this never-ending campaign, about which all Americans, no matter what their political beliefs, can surely agree: PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!

The debate came at a pivotal point in the campaign. Clinton is currently so far ahead in the polls that she had to be coaxed out of Witness Protection to participate. After the last event, in which she was essentially stalked around the stage by her opponent, it's a wonder she didn't get a restraining order. Trump's numbers have fallen dramatically, because — who would have thought? — some people just can't cotton to voting for a sexual predator. Not that Trump would agree to the label. He maintained that his nine accusers were all lying, and that their allegations had all been "debunked," although he didn't say by whom.

"I didn't even apologize to my wife," Trump pointed out as evidence of his innocence, unfortunately laying the groundwork for yet more interviews with Melania. Like a rock star trying to please his audience, he played one of his greatest hits. "Nobody has more respect for women than I do," he announced. In response, the audience, which had mostly kept quiet, burst into loud laughter. This is the point we've reached in our political process, with debates now interrupted less often by cheers or boos than hearty guffaws.  

Trump tried to shift attention to the recent allegations about Democratic operatives inciting violence at his rallies. Pointing to Clinton, he shouted, "She caused the violence at my rallies! It's on tape!" But if anyone shouldn't be encouraging people to pay attention to tapes, it's Trump.

If presidential terms lasted only a half-hour, Trump might actually be qualified to serve. For the debate's first 30 minutes or so, he was in a quiet, Zen-like state, maintaining a neutral facial expression and refraining from interrupting. But when Clinton, referring to his meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, said about Trump, "He choked," steam began billowing from the Donald's ears, and his carefully rehearsed decorum fell by the wayside.

"Wrong!" "Give me a break!" "We've heard that before, Hillary!" "You're a puppet, you're a puppet!" Trump bellowed these and many more interjections while Clinton was speaking, although it's his muttering of "What a nasty woman!" that should prove a highlight in clip reels.

As usual, Clinton for the most part delivered cogent and carefully nuanced policy proposals and positions, while Trump resorted to wacky hyperbole. During a back-and-forth about Roe v. Wade, he decried babies "being torn from the womb days before being born" as if he had watched too many torture-porn movies. Discussing immigration, Trump said that he had brought to the event the mothers of four people who were murdered by undocumented immigrants, or, as he described them, "bad hombres" (Trump may be the only presidential nominee in history to keep a police scanner in his limousine). And he doubled down on his snuggling up to brutal dictators, actually managing to praise genocidal Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Most shockingly, Trump even argued that he should have won an Emmy for Celebrity Apprentice.

Fox News' Chris Wallace was tough and forceful in his questioning, but like all the moderators before him, he was ultimately helpless to stop Trump from turning the evening into a circus. Now that the debates are finally over, it may be time for Anderson Cooper, Martha Raddatz, Lester Holt and Wallace to form a support group.

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