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COMMENTARY: The chaos candidate — why turmoil is Donald Trump’s trademark

Click to play video 'Trump won’t condemn white supremacists during debate' Trump won’t condemn white supremacists during debate
WATCH: During this year's chaotic first U.S. presidential debate, U.S. President Donald Trump refused to condemn the Proud Boys, instead telling the white nationalist group to "stand back and stand by." As Jackson Proskow reports, Trump tried backtracking the remarks, but the damage has already been done.

From the day Donald Trump rode down the golden escalator at Trump Tower to announce his run for president to his current re-election campaign for the world’s highest office, he’s always been the chaos candidate.

That included Tuesday’s shocking debate with Democratic rival Joe Biden, a confrontation that degenerated into mudslinging and name-calling.

The highlight of the night — maybe “lowlight” is a better descriptor — came when debate moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump if he would condemn white supremacists.

“It was a soft-ball question,” political scientist Steven Weldon told me, noting Trump had been accused of pandering to racist elements in the past.

Read more: ‘Incredibly disturbing’ — Trump draws ire for ‘legitimizing’ white nationalist group

But instead of seizing the opportunity to make a clear statement against extremists, Trump delivered a shout-out to the far-right Proud Boys group.

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“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump said, though he later denied he was urging the militant group on, insisting he doesn’t know who the Proud Boys are.

But the FBI knows who they are, having labelled them an extremist organization that’s been banned from social media platforms for spreading hate.

Once again, Trump opted to stir things up instead of cool things down. The chaos candidate had struck again.

“It doesn’t seem like a smart strategy,” said Weldon, a political science professor at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University, who wonders why Trump doesn’t moderate his message to attract undecided voters.

“Was that energizing for people already in his corner and who already support him? Probably. But is that enough to win the election? No.

“If you were an undecided voter coming into this debate, I find it difficult to see where he would find support.”

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But sowing chaos has always seemed to be the Trump trademark. It’s worked for him in the past and maybe he thinks it will work again.

But perhaps more American voters are getting sick of the circus.

Once again this week, as the Trump turmoil escalated, some Americans turned their eyes longingly to the north.

“We saw Google searches spike for ‘How to move to Canada,'” said Mel Woods, associate editor of Huffington Post Canada.

“It’s not the first time we’ve seen it.”

Read more: ‘Move to Canada’ searches explode during chaotic Trump-Biden debate

Indeed, American applications for permanent residency in Canada increased after Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the last election four years ago.

But there’s been no major exodus over the border, despite some celebrity threats to flee the land of Trump.

Instead, Americans — along with Canada and the rest of the world — are watching and wondering what will happen.

The answer to that question may not be decided on election night in November. Trump has said repeatedly that he believes the election is “rigged” and he may contest the result if he loses.

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To Weldon, it’s a sign that Trump knows he’s in trouble.

“You can see it in his behaviour,” he told me.

“If you thought you were winning, why would you spend all this time talking about contesting a fraudulent election?”

With Biden leading in the polls, watch for more Trump turmoil.

The next two debates could be even wilder than the first one, as the chaos candidate continues to turn the fight for the White House into a no-holds-barred cage match.

Mike Smyth is host of ‘The Mike Smyth Show’ on Global News Radio 980 CKNW in Vancouver and a commentator for Global News. You can reach him at mike@cknw.com and follow him on Twitter at @MikeSmythNews​.