Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton faced off for the final time in the presidential campaign on Tuesday night, tussling over the economy, trade, Russia and anything else the candidates wanted to throw at each other.
In the final televised debate before Election Day, Trump wielded his usual firepower against Clinton, but it was not enough to beat Clinton at what could otherwise have been a rout. Trump was battered on the economy, the Supreme Court, foreign policy and much else. At times, he seemed shaken.
While he was repeatedly scolded by the debate moderator, Kristen Welker, for “laying out false charges” and other dubious things, Trump did not let the rules of the game interfere with the game. He stood firm. He demeaned Clinton’s debate performances — and ignored Welker’s reminder that a person who did so could be penalized — while laboring mightily to win her over, with nods of agreement and pats on the back.
Trump pressed on, baiting Clinton throughout a meeting that veered from denunciations of FBI Director James B. Comey to insults about his own business record to fighting suggestions that he had groped women.
It was a performance to keep the peace and rise to occasion. It is not a performance the public likely wants to see over the next few days or days beyond, but it was Trump’s one last opportunity to register his presence in the race. He rejected it.