Robert Ehlert: Was final debate Trump’s last stand?

Three strikes in politics and you’re on your way out.

After watching three contentious debates with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Clinton is holding her ground and actually gaining in the polls. Trump is getting in a few punches here and there, but he lacks the traction and message to attract new followers beyond the base that got him nominated.

He came in to the Wednesday tilt in Las Vegas trailing Clinton by nine points and losing ground in key swing states, a gap that seems to be growing ever larger since the release of the Access Hollywood audio and video in which he spoke so lewdly about his attempted conquests of women. He’s lately been the object of allegations from nine women who accuse him of unwanted sexual contact dating back 30 years ago. Trump says it’s all made up –– a big lie –– but it stalks him and is certainly damaging his chances to advance.

Here’s the bottom line: Trump needed a grand slam/Hail Mary/buzzer beater debate performance Wednesday and all I saw was a man treading water in a Sea of Denial.

What points he might have scored criticizing Clinton –– on the machinations of the Clinton Foundation, his assessment of her lackluster accomplishments and her lapse in judgment regarding her emails –– were all but wiped out by more insults (Clinton is a “nasty woman”) and his ridiculous accusations about a rigged election, which has served us without fail for 240 years.

When Trump was asked by Fox News anchor and moderator Chris Wallace whether he would accept the outcome of the election if he were to lose and then concede defeat and pledge to work toward uniting the country, Trump did not directly answer. Instead he told Wallace he would decide at the time –– and meanwhile keep us in suspense.

Just 19 days before the election, as more and more people participate in early voting, there is no time to play suspense games.

If Trump thinks his condescending smirks, insults and charges that our election system is rigged pave a path to victory, how can voters rely on his judgment to protect them and lead them to prosperity as our president?