In baseball, a pitcher “crosses up” the catcher by ignoring the signal and throwing a pitch the catcher is not expecting — often that’s difficult to catch.
From the subsequent mad spinning by his family and staff and leading Republicans, you get the distinct impression Donald Trump “crossed up” everybody at last night’s final presidential candidate debate by refusing — twice! — to indicate he would accept the results of the election if he lost.
It is, after all, impossible to believe this question — created by Trump’s frequent dark mutterings about “massive election fraud” and a “stolen” or “rigged” election — was not thoroughly discussed during the GOP candidate’s debate prep. His agreed-up talking point was almost certainly relayed by the steadiest family spokesperson, Ivanka Trump, who said on the day of the debate that her father would accept the results, win or lose. His running mate, Mike Pence, said the same thing several days ago. And Trump did, after all, answer the same question during the first debate on September 26 by saying: “The answer is, if she wins, I will absolutely support her.”
We’ll probably never know why Trump said what he said last night. Perhaps he was driven by anger at that “nasty woman,” Hillary Clinton, who successfully baited him repeatedly during the Las Vegas debate. Maybe he really is credulous enough to believe James O’Keefe’s video “investigation” shows proof of “massive voter fraud” underway. But the strange thing is Trump could have preserved his “right” to protest a “rigged” election on November 9 without making the sort of banana-republic rejection of the presumptive legitimacy of an American election that he in fact issued to the manifest horror of all but the most Breitbartian of his supporters and allies.
Here are some examples of what he might have said when asked if he would accept the election results:
(1) We are going — we are going, make no mistake — to win and make America great again. But if the American people are misled by the biased media and Crooked Hillary’s tactics into going another way, I will of course accept their decision.
(2) Like any candidate — like Hillary will, too — I will of course want to make sure the election returns are verified and certified. But I trust the American people, so I will trust their decision.
(3) There are some dark, dark things going on and Hillary and Obama and their Chicago goons are inciting violence and registering illegal voters, as the clips today show. We need to stop that before election day, and I’ve asked my supporters to stay vigilant. But once the votes are cast and counted and certified, yes, I’ll accept the verdict.
(4) Yes, I’ll accept a fair vote and a fair count. But what you need to be asking Hillary is whether she’ll promise to stop paying people to start fights at my rallies and register illegal voters.
The most obvious alternative tack for Trump, of course, would have been to indicate unconditionally that he would accept the results — just like he did in the first debate — and then go right back to talking about “stolen” and “rigged” elections the very next day. It’s not like he’s a prisoner to consistency.
As it is, he may have blown up his candidacy once and for all, and — ironically — made it possible for Clinton to win by a margin so large that even James O’Keefe will have to admit defeat. Your team can lose big when you ignore the signal.