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Sin City braces for Donald Trump

For the final debate, America turns to Las Vegas, where the odds of a Clinton win would be 2-1 (if betting on politics was legal there)
Donald Trump celebrates with supporters after winning the Nevada Republican caucus at the Treasure Island Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Feb. 23, 2016. (RUTH FREMSON/New York Times/Redux)
Donald Trump celebrates with supporters after winning the Nevada Republican caucus at the Treasure Island Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Feb. 23, 2016. (RUTH FREMSON/New York Times/Redux)
Donald Trump celebrates with supporters after winning the Nevada Republican caucus at the Treasure Island Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Feb. 23, 2016. (RUTH FREMSON/New York Times/Redux)

Maclean’s is your home for the final U.S. presidential debate. Watch us count the debate’s lies—one candy at a time—with our Skittles Meter live on Facebook and Twitter. And follow our live-blog during the debate, and our incisive analysis afterward, on macleans.ca.

In Sin City, everyone looks up to Donald Trump; his name’s atop the highest hotel in town. That would be the Trump Hotel Las Vegas, 64 storeys of brazen glitz, the cynosure of the Strip, its guest rooms and condominium apartments shielded from the desert sun by windows tinted with atoms of real gold.

Tomorrow evening, as that same sun sets over Mount Charleston and the haunting desolation of Death Valley beyond, Mr. Trump will engage Hillary Clinton in debate at a university gymnasium for the third and final time. What is certain going into the confrontation is that the hotelier, who trails nationally in every reputable public-opinion poll with less than three weeks remaining in the campaign, has little left to lose. What is unknown is whether the rabid billionaire will grasp one last chance at statesmanlike seriousness, or spend the evening spewing inflammatory gibberish as he did at Debate Two in St. Louis 10 days ago.

On Tuesday morning, awaiting Trump’s ensconcement in his boudoir on the 61st floor, the lobby was filled with overnighters and day-tripping gawkers checking out the Trump Shop, which offers souvenir T-shirts made in Pakistan, body lotion made in Canada, Chardonnay and Blanc de Blancs from the Trump Winery in Virginia, and, of course, Make America Great Again ball caps proudly manufactured in California, U.S.A.

Outside the branded emporium, a man named Gene Rankin from Spring Branch, Texas, was sitting and thinking things over. Like tens of millions of other white male American voters, he long ago had made up his mind to support Trump for the presidency. And, like most of his fellow Trump-train passengers, he did not believe that, regardless of what he might have claimed on tape in 2005, Trump actually made a habit of introducing himself to women by grabbing them by the groin.

“It just seems like he could have anything he wanted,” the Texan said. “Why would he have to grope?”

“His wife forgives him, that’s the main thing,” Rankin went on. “It just shows you how crude some men can be when they’re with the boys.”

MORE: Melania Trump speaks, and it’s a whispery roar

Rankin, a retired salesman of retirement annuities, watched the crowds of vacationing foreigners and out-of-staters stream through the lobby of the Trump Hotel Las Vegas in their long shorts and their made-in-Asia Nikes. The establishment, he said, “is kind of upper-middle-class.” His own room, booked more than a month ago, was costing US$260 a night, which is not out of line for a gold-windowed view of the fabled Strip.

“I think people like to enjoy the Trump brand,” Rankin observed. “Everybody flocks to it—well, maybe not everybody. About half of the people really have taken this election personally. If he loses, he’s still got a lot to go back to, but it might take him some time to rebuild his brand.”

It was the same with the nation as a whole, Rankin said. “I think he’ll clean up things,” he said. “Or maybe it’s too big to clean up. He doesn’t seem to be part of the cronyism. Or maybe he is—they all are. But Hillary is just as crooked as they come.”

In the dying days of a despicable campaign, fewer and fewer voters remain to be persuaded as Debate Three approached. A Washington Post-Survey Monkey poll released Tuesday predicted that Clinton will win more than 300 electoral votes, comfortably exceeding the 270 needed for victory. She was holding leads of five percentage points or more in the pivotal “battleground states” of Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia and Colorado, while Trump was slightly ahead, or in a statistical tie, in Florida, Ohio and Nevada, whose motto is “Battle Born.”

(At the Silver Sevens casino on Tuesday, a bookie at the sports wagering desk told Maclean’s that he would lay two-to-one odds in Clinton’s favour if it were legal in Nevada to bet on political contests. It isn’t. “I won’t vote for Trump,” the bookie said. “Nobody should. He’s an idiot.”)

At the White House, President Barack Obama spent part of Tuesday offering free advice to Trump and attacking his increasingly strident predictions of massive voter fraud and his ridiculous claims that the entire U.S. electoral system—with its 50 state apparatuses and tens of thousands of precincts—is rigged against him.

“If you start whining before the game is even over,” Obama said at a joint news conference with the prime minister of Italy, “if whenever things are going badly for you and you lose you start blaming somebody else, then you don’t have what it takes to be in this job . . . And so I’d advise Mr. Trump to stop whining and go try to make his case to get votes.”

On the verge of Debate Three, criticism of  Trump was as easy to find in Las Vegas as half-price vouchers for an Elvis show. But directly across Sammy Davis Jr. Drive from the Trump Hotel Las Vegas, behind the counter at the Déja Vu Love Boutique, was a retired flight attendant and former hotel manager named Tina Christiane. She described herself as a lifelong Democrat who said that she had decided to vote for Trump as the better engine of economic advancement for her fellow African-Americans and the cleansing of the country of illegal aliens.

“As far as Hillary Clinton being the first woman, I don’t think she’s the best woman,” Christiane, a native of Detroit, said. “I don’t think that Trump is the best one either, but to be honest, the Republicans have done more for African-Americans than the Democrats. A lot of people say that Bill Clinton did a lot for African-Americans, but he signed that NAFTA bill, and that just killed Detroit. I don’t think that Trump necessarily likes black people, but he’s a businessman. He gets s–t done.”

At the Déja Vu, as the sun came up from Arizona, the building fell in the literal shadow of the towering Trump hotel. Seeing the name at the top of the building, Christiane said, “I think of power. Masculine power. Male power.”

Donald Trump, she said, “is not a bad-looking gentleman.”

This was the natural order of things, she said: “I believe in letting the man be the head and body of the family, and the woman taking care of the family. The women’s boxing and the kickboxing we have now, I don’t think I’d like to be punched in the face by another woman.”

“Would you like to be groped in the crotch by a man?” Christiane was asked.

“I wouldn’t like that either,” she answered, awaiting Trump’s last stand. “That’s disrespectful. But men say a lot of things when women aren’t around. Like his wife said, it’s just boy talk.”