Hillary Clinton didn’t beat Donald Trump in the final debate. Donald Trump destroyed Donald Trump.
With Trump, there’s always a moment when the curtain opens on the true nature of his mental processes.
In Wednesday’s debate, it wasn’t just a moment, it was an epoch. It came when moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News — who did a terrific, probing, even-handed job — asked if he would accept the result of the election.
As Wallace noted, Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, has said he and Trump will accept the results. His daughter Ivanka says she thinks her father will.
But all Trump would say was: “I will tell you at the time.”
He then launched into a multilayered conspiracy theory: The media was poisoning the minds of the voters. Further, Clinton shouldn’t have been allowed to run for president because of the supposed crime she has committed.
When Clinton pointed out that the FBI’s long investigation concluded there wasn’t a case, Trump as much as said that had been a tank job. That’s a popular belief among Republican right-wingers, but for anyone who knows the law, straight-arrow FBI director James Comey made the correct and obvious call.
But Trump didn’t stop there. He soon alleged that the Iraqi-led, US-assisted assault on ISIS-held Mosul had been launched this month to help Clinton’s campaign!
For her part, Clinton took him apart, noting that he had claimed the Iowa caucuses were rigged, that a court case against “Trump University” was rigged, and that, a few years back, when his reality show didn’t get one, that the Emmys were rigged.
Hers was an effective rejoinder, but frankly, it wasn’t needed. Trump’s own comments gave a window into his strange, conspiratoralist way of thinking.
Here’s the problem for Trump. He thought his challenge was muddying up Clinton, and so, in the second half of the debate, he went the usual Trump route. That is, a hyperbolic attack.
There were two issues there. First, by now, everyone knows Clinton’s flaws. But a durable plurality of voters has also decided that those faults pale before Trump’s. Which brings us to the core issue for Trump: His real challenge is himself.
Most voters have come to the conclusion that he’s just not a good fit for the White House.
This final debate only reinforced that impression.
Scot Lehigh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.