LAS VEGAS ― The final presidential debate here on Wednesday is teed up to be one of the nastiest and dirtiest in recent memory. Donald Trump is desperately trying to regain ground as he attacks women accusing him of sexual assault and sets up his supporters to believe that if Hillary Clinton wins, it means the election was rigged.
Trump is set to encounter a boisterous and hostile reception when he steps off his plane in Las Vegas. Workers at his own hotel will be picketing before and after their shifts on Tuesday, and union members will be constructing a wall of taco trucks outside his hotel on the day of the debate ― a reminder that it’s not only women he’s offended.
Clinton will also find resistance in this battleground state, as an ad in the local newspaper, shared by a Huffington Post reader, makes clear. The ad urges people to buy guns before “Crooked Hillary” wins in November.
“I got three words for you: Cabbage Patch dolls,” Cameron Hopkins, owner of local gun store Westside Armory, replied when HuffPost asked why he believed the price of guns would go up if Clinton becomes president.
“Do you remember when all the kids wanted Cabbage Patch dolls? And it was Christmas time and all the toy stores were running out of Cabbage Patch dolls? So what do you think happened to the price of Cabbage Patch dolls? They all went up,” he explained.
Hopkins admitted that the horrible massacres that occurred during President Barack Obama’s presidency didn’t result in more gun control ― as many conservatives feared ― so there’s a good chance that it will stay that way. But that doesn’t mean people aren’t still afraid liberals will take away their guns, he said.
“We’re a mirror,” Hopkins said. “We’re holding up a mirror to what appears to be going on in the political system right now, and there is a lot of fear that if Hillary is elected there will be dramatic changes to the American way of life, including our right to own guns.”
Trump, too, has presented himself as a mirror of a certain segment of the population that believes, in his words, that this election “is a crossroads in the history of our civilization that will determine whether or not we the people reclaim control over our government.”
Topics for Wednesday’s debate include the economy, immigration, the Supreme Court and debt and entitlements, but the focus will no doubt be on how Trump is dealing with the sexual assault allegations that have dominated news coverage in the past week.
A steady stream of women have stepped forward to accuse the Republican presidential nominee of sexual assault since The Washington Post released video of him bragging in 2005 that he uses his celebrity status to assault women. In the last debate, Trump said unequivocally that he does not do what he bragged about doing:
Q: Have you ever done those things?
TRUMP: And women have respect for me. And I will tell you: No, I have not. And I will tell you that I’m going to make our country safe. We’re going to have borders in our country, which we don’t have now. People are pouring into our country, and they’re coming in from the Middle East and other places.
Yet many women who have interacted with Trump over the years say he is lying, and they’ve stepped forward to tell their stories.
A person close to Trump told HuffPost that the real estate mogul wants to go after his accusers more aggressively, raising questions about their credibility and attacking them personally. Many of his advisers, however, don’t think it would be such a good idea.
“There is kind of a fissure in the campaign,” the source said, “where he’d really like to discredit all these women because he doesn’t like his reputation being impugned. ... Most people say, ‘Forget about this, just move to the issues.’ He wants to say, ‘Yeah, but this woman is really a stalker,’ and on and on.”
According to this individual, Trump believes that if he goes after these women’s backstories and reveals their supposed ulterior motives, the public will be more sympathetic toward him.
He has already been taking the unbelievable step of attacking his accusers’ looks: Trump’s defense is that he’s not physically attracted to them and therefore wouldn’t have assaulted them.
And since Trump recently declared “the shackles have been taken off” him, he’s likely to be even more unpredictable than in past debates.
Clinton has largely stepped back and let Trump implode. Her campaign has continued to release policy plans and focus on its ground game, even starting to expand the map of states she might win. The most effective replies to Trump and his comments about women haven’t come from Clinton ― who, through her marriage, isn’t the ideal messenger on this issue ― but from surrogates like the president and first lady.
In this final debate, Clinton will no doubt face questions about some of campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails, which were leaked after what intelligence agencies believe was a Russian government hack. The debate will also offer her one of her final, most high-profile chances to remind voters why they should vote for her and not simply against Trump.
Ryan Grim contributed reporting.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.
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