Here is Donald Trump this morning:

Whoa! How did that happen? Allow unskewing nutball Bill Mitchell to explain:

Bill Mitchell is this year's breakout Twitter star, and I am reliably informed that he is a real person who holds the views he expresses in his hundreds of tweets per day, not a parody account. You can read a profile of him here. Truly we live in miraculous times.

I figured the polling on this debate would be closer than before, but still give Hillary Clinton the win. I was sort of right. It was closer than the other two, but she still won by 13 points.1 That's a fairly impressive blowout.

The CNN folks seemed to think that Trump's late-debate dig at Clinton—"Such a nasty woman"—was what ultimately sunk him. I dunno. Maybe. There were plenty of other things that sunk him too, though, and just generally most Americans don't want a president who's ignorant, mendacious, mean, misogynistic, and unable to control his temper. I think that explains most of it.

1As you may recall, she won the first debate by 35 points, 62-27, and the second debate by 23 points, 57-34.

By normal standards, Trump was once again frenzied and hostile tonight. However, by Trump standards, he was surprisingly subdued. He had his moments, but not nearly as many as usual, and for most of the debate he managed to keep a level tone. I was joking about the Valium below, but I dunno. Maybe he really did get himself tranked before the debate.

I'm going to guess that the instant polls will show this one close to a draw. Maybe Clinton will come out a bit ahead. Basically, they both repeated the same attacks as they did in the first two debates, and they've lost some of their zest at this point. At about the 20-minute mark, Clinton started trying to bait Trump into melting down, but he generally resisted the temptation. Every time he started to get a little animated, it was like something blinked in his brain and he dialed himself back. He would have been more dangerous if he could have (a) dialed himself back even more, and (b) done this from the start.

Trump claimed, once again, that all the groping accusations are "pure fiction." He never met any of those women. I guess that includes the People reporter, who he pretty clearly met many times. He also lied when he denied saying that he was OK with Japan having nuclear weapons. He lied again when he claimed, as usual, that he opposed the Iraq War.

In the news department, Trump was very clear that no, he would not necessarily accept the results of the election. "I will look at it at the time.," he said. There's just too much election fraud for him to commit to anything. This was by far the biggest actual news of the debate. On the other side of the aisle, Clinton said the Senate should confirm President Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court. Has she said that before? Maybe so, but I don't recall it. In any case, it was a very specific endorsement of Merrick Garland. Does that mean she'd renominate him if she wins?

Bottom line: by 2016 standards, this debate was a bit of a bore. It will have no effect on the election at all. However, Trump basically threatened to do—what? Well, something, anyway, if the election doesn't go his way. This is not a normal threat for a presidential candidate to make, but luckily I doubt the election will be close enough for him to gin anything up. I also doubt that the Republican Party will back him up.

A complete transcript is here.

God in His infinite wisdom has declared that there should be ten commandments, nine forms of devotion, an eightfold path, seven deadly sins, six remembrances, five pillars of faith, four ages of man, and three presidential debates. Mere mortals can't hope to comprehend why He would do this to us. Unless He's a She and wants us all to get a good long look at Donald Trump and then get our act together. That's probably it.

On with the show.

10:36 - And that's a wrap. A real wrap.

10:35 - Clinton delivers standard rah rah. Trump draws picture of America falling into an abyss.

10:34 - Wallace: We all agreed not to have closing statements, but I'm going to ask you for one anyway.

10:33 - Clinton says she will raise Social Security taxes, but won't cut benefits. She wants to expand benefits.

10:31 - Trump: I'm going to grow the economy so much that we'll have no need for entitlement reform. Now he's off on a rant on Obamacare. Trump says he's glad that premiums are going up.

10:28 - Clinton: Donald criticized President Reagan in 1987!

10:27 - Let's talk about the national debt. Why are both candidates ignoring it? Trump: I'll get GDP growth up to 4%. Hell, maybe 5% or 6%. Why not? As soon as we get rid of the political hacks, anything is possible.

10:18 - Clinton: "You are unfit." Trump: "No, you're the one who's unfit." Ooh! What a sick burn. If you're a first-grader, that is.

10:16 - Clinton calls out Trump for lying about his support for Iraq war. Mentions Celebrity Apprentice again.

10:14 - Trump now pretending he knows something about Mosul. Claims that ISIS leaders have already left because we announced attack three months ago. The whole battle is a sham to make Obama and Clinton look tough. The big winner will be Iran.

10:09 - Clinton: "This is very disturbing." Whenever Trump loses something, he claims things have been rigged.

10:08 - Trump on Clinton: "She's guilty of a very, very serious crime....She should never have been allowed to run for the presidency."

10:06 - Will Trump accept the results of the election? Trump: "I will look at it at the time."

10:05 - Trump is back on his schtick about how Hillary should have passed laws to stop him from doing all the sleazy stuff he does.

9:59 - Clinton (paraphrased): Trump is a creep. Trump: It was Clinton's campaign that incited all the violence at his rallies.

9:57 - Trump on the groping accusations: "Those stories have been largely debunked." I'm pretty sure the number that have been debunked is zero.

9:55 - Clinton: "Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger."

9:53 - Trump says he thinks the Clinton campaign got all those women to say he groped them. "It was all fiction."

9:51 - Clinton: On the day I was in the Situation Room watching the raid on Osama bin Laden, Trump was hosting an episode of Celebrity Apprentice.

9:42 - Trump looks smug and congratulates Chris Wallace whenever he asks Clinton a tough question.

9:39 - Trump: "We're going to do a lot of things about college tuition." Like what? No telling, but it'll be way better than Hillary's lame tuition plan.

9:36 - Ah, excellent. The real Donald is back. He just denied saying he wouldn't mind if Japan built its own nuclear weapons, even though he's on tape saying exactly that.

9:34 - Trump interjects his first "Wrong."

9:32 - Trump: No one knows where the WikiLeaks stuff came from. Clinton: Intelligence agencies say it was Russia. Trump, sarcastically: "Yeah yeah, I get it."

9:31 - Trump starting to get a little more red-faced now.

9:29 - Are you in favor of open borders? Clinton: I was only talking about energy. And that all came from WikiLeaks anyway. Trump should denounce Russian espionage.

9:26 - Now Clinton is attacking Trump, hoping to bait him into melting down. It's bound to work eventually, isn't it? Not yet, though. Maybe he took a Valium before coming onstage?

9:25 - Clinton: Trump met with president of Mexico and didn't bring up the wall "He choked and then got into a Twitter war."

9:23 - Trump is against abortion, Clinton is pro-choice. Trump wants a wall, Clinton opposes a deportation force and favors comprehensive immigration reform.

9:16 - My, what a civil discussion so far!

9:13 - Now it's all about protecting toddlers from guns. Clinton is considerably more moderate on gun control than she was during the primaries against Bernie Sanders.

9:10 - Trump: Court needs to uphold the 2nd Amendment. Oh, and all the other amendments too.

9:06 - Clinton: We need a court that respects women's rights, LGBT rights, and opposes Citizens United. Court needs to stand up to the powerful. Senate should confirm Merrick Garland.

9:00 - Chris Wallace: No hootin' and hollerin'!

8:55 - None of the presidential candidates sent me birthday greetings today, so I don't know who I'm going to vote for now. This is a real lost opportunity for Gary Johnson and Jill Stein.

Jonathan Chait writes today:

Religious Right Now Judgment-Free, Thanks to Donald Trump

Yeah, yeah, I know. They support Trump even though he's obviously not religious. Been there, heard it before.

But wait! Chait points to a new PRRI survey that's genuinely intriguing. It turns out that over the past five years, pretty much all religious groups have steadily given up on the idea of holding politicians accountable for their personal morality. However, the biggest change by far has come from white evangelicals. In 2011, they were the least willing to accept personal lapses. Today, they're the most accepting.

Is this purely political? In 2011, after all, their touchstone was a liberal Democratic president. In 2016 their touchstone is a conservative Republican presidential candidate. Maybe their willingness to forgive moral lapses is purely transactional: they forgive conservatives but not liberals. There's considerable evidence to back this up if you look at congressional races.

Still, Catholics and mainline Protestants have also moved in the same direction. The religiously unaffiliated have stayed about where they were. Are Christians just steadily abandoning the whole idea that personal morality matters in public life?

Maybe, but I think there may be an alternative explanation. I suspect that a lot of respondents interpret "personal" to mean "sexual." If that's the case, this survey may show something much narrower: that even conservative Christians are loosening up on the sexual front. If "personal immorality" largely conjures images of divorce and premarital sex and gay marriage and so forth, then this survey result just means they don't care about that stuff so much anymore. Is it possible the culture wars have moved on?

As we all idly wait for the debate to start, here's an interesting question related to my previous post. I noted that "no matter how personally or politically destructive it is, Donald Trump is flatly unable to ignore an attack from anyone of influence." Nobody disputes this as a general proposition, but several people pointed out to me that there have been a few folks who attacked Trump and avoided return fire. Michelle Obama is one. Mark Cuban is another. Warren Buffett is a third—and Trump even publicly acknowledged he planned to leave Buffett alone. "There's no counter-punch," he said.

There aren't a lot of examples of this, and I suppose you could say that even Donald Trump doesn't have enough hours in the day to attack everyone who's been nasty to him. But these are all big names, of the kind that he'd normally respond to. So what stopped him? It's not gender: he attacks both men and women. It's not power: he attacks plenty of powerful people. It's not money: he's taken on Michael Bloomberg and Carlos Slim.

So what's the deal? How does that feverish brain of his decide who not to attack? Is it popularity? Maybe he's careful to only counterattack people who aren't especially popular. Ideas?

There are lots of theories about what truly drives Donald Trump, but with 20 days to go before Election Day, I think my colleague David Corn finally nails the single most most important trait that motivates Trump's behavior:

Revenge—it's a big part of Trump's life. Following the first presidential debate, he spent days of valuable campaign time (and hours of valuable sleep time) slamming Alicia Machado....Rosie O'Donnell....Judge Gonzalo Curiel....Khizr and Ghazala Khan....Carly Fiorina and Megyn Kelly.....Gov. John Kasich....Lyin’ Ted, Little Marco.

Why all the insults, bullying, and grudge matches? There is a reason. Trump fervently believes in retaliation. How do we know? Because he has said so numerous times that he is driven by revenge and that it is a basic tool to use in business. He is obsessed with payback.

Pretty much everything else flows from this. The bullying is always in service of revenge. The narcissism is a way of elevating himself above his adversaries. The dominance games are always aimed at real and perceived enemies.

But there's a flip side to this: Anyone who is nice to Donald Trump is a great guy. The best. One of the smartest people you'll ever meet. And this can flip in a minute. This explains why he was inexplicably pleasant to so many of his primary opponents for so long: they hadn't attacked him. Once they did, though, the gloves were off. Ditto for Vladimir Putin. As long as Putin is personally nice to him, Trump is almost literally incapable of attacking him. This will change the moment Putin says anything even mildly derogatory about Trump.

There are two ways this plays out. The first is obvious: it's aimed at people Trump needs revenge on. The second is less obvious: it's aimed at people and things that are ipso facto enemies of the United States. This includes Mexico, China, ISIS, and so on. It doesn't include the Syrian regime, because apparently Trump doesn't consider them a threat. Ditto for Russia, I suppose.

Lots of people are obsessed with scorched-earth retribution against anyone or anything that attacks them. The weird thing about Trump is that it seems to be almost hardwired. No matter how little sense it makes to play nice with, say, Vladimir Putin, Trump simply can't attack until Putin attacks him first. Likewise, no matter how personally or politically destructive it is, Trump is flatly unable to ignore an attack from anyone of influence. It's as if he has a special revenge neuron in his brain, and it flips back and forth and forces him to attack regardless of anything else. It's as automatic for him as jerking your knee is for you when a doctor taps it with a hammer. It's not something that's under Trump's conscious control.

Needless to say, this is a big part of his appeal. Lots of people—and conservatives especially—are driven by showy displays of in-group loyalty, and that includes lashing out at anyone who criticizes the group. This includes personal attacks, attacks on family, attacks on friends, attacks on religion, attacks on race, attacks on country, or anything else they identify with. And whatever else you can say about him, Donald Trump is definitely not a guy who will turn the other cheek. That's what Trump's base likes most about him.

UPDATE: Apparently even Newt Gingrich agrees:

The former House speaker and top Trump surrogate told the Washington Examiner’s David Drucker that the Republican nominee loses his cool in response to “anything which attacks his own sense of integrity or his own sense of respectability, and he reacts very intensely, almost uncontrollably, to those kinds of situations.”

....“There’s also a part of his personality that sometimes gets involved in petty things that make no sense, and I think that that’s what I was talking about when I talk about there’s a big Trump and a little Trump,” Gingrich said.

Actually, big Trump and little Trump have the same personality. They just express it at different targets. Gingrich doesn't see this because he's basically big Trump himself when it comes to politics.

Some of you may have heard that James O'Keefe is back with yet another hidden camera bombshell. It shows a couple of Democratic operatives—Robert Creamer and Scott Foval—allegedly boasting about disrupting Trump rallies and committing voter fraud. O'Keefe's record on this stuff is dicey enough that I'm not willing to waste any time with it myself, but here is Dave Weigel's summary:

For now, that's my take too. The video is heavily edited, and O'Keefe has refused to release the raw footage. I think we can all guess what that means.

Happy birthday to me! I'm 58 today. I plan to celebrate by liveblogging tonight's debate, which begins at 9 pm Eastern. My prediction: Donald Trump will show up to the debate bald as an egg. Like Lex Luthor before him, he will then embark on a life of crime and revenge aimed at Hillary Clinton, who he blames for destroying his hair because she was jealous of his genius.

Well, why not? It makes as much sense as anything else he's done.

Yesterday, the "quid pro quo" that totally should have landed Hillary Clinton in a Supermax for life was all the rage in Trumpian circles. J'accuse! She had one of her minions try to pressure the FBI into declassifying an embarrassing email! Today, Matt Zapotosky interviews FBI official Brian McCauley to get his take on his conversation with State Department official Patrick Kennedy last year. It started when Kennedy called him:

“He said, ‘Brian. Pat Kennedy. I need a favor,’ ” McCauley recalled in an interview Tuesday. “I said, ‘Good, I need a favor. I need our people back in Baghdad.” Then Kennedy, a longtime State Department official, explained what he wanted in return: “There’s an email. I don’t believe it has to be classified.”

....In an hour-long interview with The Washington Post, his first public comments on the matter, McCauley acknowledged that he offered to do a favor in exchange for another favor, but before he had any inkling of what Kennedy wanted....McCauley [] said he asked Kennedy to send him the email in question and then inquired with another bureau official about it....McCauley said that when he learned the missive concerned the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, he told Kennedy he could not help him.

“I said, ‘Absolutely not, I can’t help you,’ and he took that, and it was fine,” said McCauley.

Is this really how things went down? There's no telling. Obviously McCauley has an incentive to make this conversation sound routine and harmless. That said, McCauley's account is the only one we have, and it sounds perfectly plausible. This is how people talk.

What's more, it also sounds as if the FBI took another look at the email, turned down Kennedy's request, and that was that. There was no pressure and no further calls about it. Nor is there any evidence that Hillary Clinton or any of her staffers had anything at all to do with this.

This is what passes for a scandal in Trumpland. It's also what passes for a scandal in Republicanland these days. Is it any wonder that the public never took seriously Solyndra or Fast & Furious or IRSgate or Benghazi or any of the other manufactured conservative outrages of the past eight years? You can't keep crying wolf forever. Eventually everyone but the true believers just tunes you out.

Donald Trump's response to the tsunami of women saying he groped or attacked them is to flatly call them liars. The problem with this strategy is that it motivates his victims to defend themselves, thus keeping the stories in the news even longer.

Take Natasha Stoynoff, the People writer who accused Trump of attacking her after a photo shoot at Mar-a-Lago in 2005. Trump's response? "She lies! Look at her, I don't think so." As a result, this week People is running a second story quoting six colleagues and friends who have corroborated Stoynoff's account. That's 3 million readers who will see this story again, plus another gazillion or so who will see it from the inevitable follow-up on every gossip show and website in the country. And this helps Trump how?

If you read to the very end, Stoynoff gets in the final dig:

Stoynoff admits there’s a chance Trump simply pushed her own incident from his mind. “It’s possible he just doesn’t remember it,” Stoynoff says. “It was over 10 years ago and I assume I am one of many, many women.

In other news 21 days before we go to the polls, President Obama took on Donald Trump over his repeated remarks about the election being rigged:

Obama accused Trump of “whining before the game is even over” and described Trump’s remarks as “unprecedented.”

“I have never seen in my lifetime or in modern political history any presidential candidate trying to discredit the elections and the election process before votes have even taken place,” Obama said....The president, clearly troubled by Trump’s claims of a fixed election, quickly decided not to hold back. He described Trump’s allegations as a threat to American democracy and to the “integrity and trust” of the country’s civic institutions.

And it's not just Obama. Even Republicans are getting spooked by Trump's talk:

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a former Oklahoma secretary of state, said he is worried about the alarm bells that Trump is ringing. “I just don’t believe there is any risk of massive voter fraud in the elections,” Cole said. “...It does concern me, because you’ve got a national platform running for president, and you delegitimize the process by which presidents are chosen when you raise doubts.

GOP leaders, who are fighting to preserve a fragile Senate majority and hold their wider advantage in the House, worry that Trump’s attacks could cast doubt on wins by other Republicans. Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, a Republican, declined through a spokeswoman to be interviewed. In a statement, his office said, “Security during elections and encouraging 100% voter participation in Florida” are Detzner’s “top priorities.”

And of course, Mike Pence himself repudiated his own running mate, saying on Sunday, "We will absolutely accept the result of the election." I sure hope so. It would be quite a spectacle if the vice presidential candidate conceded on Election Night but the presidential candidate didn't.