The moderator of this debate, Chris Wallace of Fox News, was by far the best moderator we’ve seen this season in my opinion. He largely stuck to the topics, asked good questions, kept the candidates in line, and even kept control of the audience. Wallace selected the topics himself. They were the economy, the Supreme Court, foreign hot-spots, immigration, debt and entitlements, and fitness to be president. The candidates (and public) were told what the topics were in advance, but not what the questions would be.
There was a single occasion where I thought Wallace injected himself inappropriately into the debate, which I will discuss below. However, apart from that, I have nothing but praise for Wallace, and I hope the debate commission uses him again in the future.
By the day after this last debate, I already felt like everything had already been said. Before it began, we knew what both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had to do if they wanted to win. Trump had to appear presidential and stick to the issues. He needed to try and get back all the suburban women voters he’s lost in the last couple of weeks and try not to upset anyone else if he was to have any chance of even coming close to winning the election. Most of those who are still undecided actually lean Republican and the reason for this is obvious – they’re former GOP supporters who are desperately trying to find a way they can justify supporting someone like Trump. It wouldn’t take that much to persuade these people. As we now know though, he didn’t manage it.
There are actually plenty of things Clinton and the Democrats can be either challenged on or on which different policies can be presented that would appeal to those people. He just had to talk about them. However, he has mainly stuck to his own game plan – simply maintaining the narrative that Clinton is “crooked” and a “liar” throughout his campaign. He has been successful at that to the point that most Republicans and many Democrats do not even question it, but it has not attracted enough new voters to the Republican brand to win an election.
Clinton on the other hand had to take her lead from Trump. If he managed to retain control of his personality, she had to keep the debate on the issues and away from discussion of whether or not she was honest. If he lost it, she really just had to let him go and provide a comparison for viewers as to who was the more presidential.
For the first thirty minutes, Trump did well. The first question from moderator Chris Wallace was on the Supreme Court and what type pf appointments each candidate would make. Both largely stuck to party lines. On abortion Clinton expressed her support for a woman’s right to choose and the maintenance of Roe v. Wade. While not actually saying that he supported the abolition of Roe v. Wade, Trump did say that he thought that would happen “automatically” under his regime because he would appoint judges that didn’t support the current ruling. He also used a lot of emotive and manipulative language about ripping babies limb from limb on the day before birth. Trump and those around him don’t realize that most women, even if they are anti-abortion themselves, don’t want Roe v. Wade overturned. I don’t think the candidates’ answers will have moved the needle much and if it did, it would have been in favour of Clinton.
The 2nd Amendment was also discussed in this segment. Trump didn’t offer anything concrete – all he really said was that if Clinton became president, the 2nd Amendment would become “a very, very small replica of what it is now” and that the NRA supported him. Clinton did something which annoys the heck out of me, but which most people like and is a vote winner – she introduced an anecdote about real people. She declared her commitment to maintaining the 2nd Amendment but talked of her wish to close loopholes to ensure that those who shouldn’t have access to firearms, didn’t. Again, Trump would have geed up his base but not attracted any new voters.
Immigration was the next topic up. Again Clinton used the trick of talking about real people while Trump used a phrase that has had a lot of attention since – he referred to the “bad hombres” that are dealing drugs and that he intends to get rid of. He also accused Clinton of wanting open borders, a claim that Politifact has rated “Mostly False.” This talk is the sort of thing his base likes to hear, but if he still held out any hope of attracting Latino voters, this was probably the end of it. Clinton did further damage to Trump by managing to insert the fact that undocumented workers had been used to build Trump Tower in New York.
This segment veered off topic to relations with Russia. Trump continued to side with Putin who has denied that Russia had anything to do with the recent major hacking episodes. This is despite the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper coming out and stating publicly that Russia was the source of the hacking. The line that Trump has taken on this is quite unsupportable and now that even Clapper is announcing it publicly, it is time for him to accept it as fact. As Clinton said:
We have 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin and they are designed to influence our election.
Trump appears unable to admit when he is wrong, and that is a very dangerous character flaw in a president. We saw another example of that recently with him continuing to insist the Central Park Five are guilty despite DNA evidence clearing them.
I saw an interview on CNN (Friday evening US time/Saturday afternoon NZ time) that Anderson Cooper did with Univision‘s Jorge Ramos, the influential Latino journalist that Trump kicked out of a press conference in August last year. He stated that Latinos were very unhappy with the negative stereotype that Trump presented with the “bad hombres” line. Apparently there was also some problem with Trump’s pronunciation (he actually said “bad hungry”) and grammar as well. Trump is already doing badly with Latino voters – only 17% support him while 70% support Clinton – and with the changing demographics of the US electorate, it’s all but impossible to win the White House without at least double the support among Latinos that he has.
As someone who would rather see Clinton president than Trump, I was concerned during the initial thirty minutes. There was nothing wrong with Clinton’s performance, but there was nothing wrong with Trump’s either. Given that those undecided women and recent Trump defectors are the ones he needs, there was a good chance he could get them back with the way he was going. He remained calm, he answered reasonably well, he didn’t allow himself to be baited, and he didn’t interrupt. Given the low bar everyone set for him, he was succeeding well. However, I needn’t have worried. As the first two debates showed, he’s not capable of maintaining even a semblance of respectable behaviour despite the circumstances for any longer than half an hour.
In fact not only did Trump implode, he gave the pundits two more quotes that will be played over and over again whenever the United States is holding presidential debates in the future. Firstly, while Clinton was answering a question about taxes, she got a dig in about Trump not paying his own, which is something he’s repeatedly says makes him “smart.” He leaned into the microphone, so nobody could miss it, and said, “Such a nasty woman.” Again, this is not behaviour that will attract women voters. (The second was towards the end of the debate – I’ll get to it!)
The economy came next, and this was the one part where I considered there was a question where Chris Wallace came unstuck. He asked:
Secretary Clinton, I want to pursue your plan, because in many ways it is similar to the Obama stimulus plan in 2009, which has led to the slowest GDP growth since 1949.
Obama’s stimulus plan was not able to be fully enacted because of GOP obstruction. My own opinion, which is supported by multiple economists, is that if the plan had been carried out in full, GDP would have grown much faster than it did. Further, although growth was slow, it was faster than most of the rest of the developed world. Therefore, I thought this question showed Wallace’s personal bias on the topic, though overall I do not think he showed a preference for either candidate.
During the Economy part of the debate Trump did briefly settle again for about five minutes, probably due to his personal confidence on the topic. This was a section in which Trump should have been able to do well. However, it was Clinton that shone, and that showed in the results of the post-debate CNN/ORC poll. The economy is the one are in which Trump regularly outperforms Clinton in polls, but she won this one 50% to 48%.
Clinton was able to describe her jobs plan, which isn’t that different to Trump’s actually, but he didn’t talk about his at all. Once it was pointed out by Clinton that his tax plan mostly helped the wealthy and added significantly to the national debt and deficit, he seemed to lose it. He managed to get in the fact that she had lied at the previous debate about calling the Trans-Pacific Partnership the “gold standard,” but Clinton just carried on as if he hadn’t spoken. He also reintroduced an old claim about the State Department losing US$6 billion while she was in charge, which has previously been identified as a “Pants of Fire” lie by Politifact.
A segment on “Fitness to be President” followed which naturally included reference to Trump’s behaviour towards women. He did himself no favours and didn’t manage to get any of the hits against Clinton he could have. Among other things, he made the ridiculous assertion that the allegations made against him in recent days “have been largely debunked.” As well as this, Clinton referred to Trump being sued for racial discrimination (a case he settled out of court) and the occasion when he made fun of a disabled reporter. Trump interrupted to tell everyone he hadn’t done that, which didn’t go over too well with the audience – it’s common knowledge that he did do that and lying about it doesn’t help. The Clinton tactic of just ignoring it and carrying on works much better in debates.
The second major “quotable” came in this part of the debate. Trump was questioned about his ongoing pronouncements at his rallies that the election is rigged and asked whether he would accept its result. He said he “might not accept” the result, that he couldn’t answer the question, and that he would keep us “in suspense.”
He clarified his position at a rally the next day: he announced he would accept the result of the election if he won. As usual, his supporters are making excuses for him, explaining his answer away, telling us what he really meant, or that his answer was “tongue in cheek.” But given the regularity with which he repeats it, none of those excuses holds water.
Trump’s constant undermining of the electoral system should, in my opinion, be enough to demonstrate that he is unfit to be president without all the other aspects of character and behaviour being exposed, and in any other year they probably would be.
Foreign hot-spots came up next, and the main topics discussed were Mosul and Raqqa, though neither at length. Unbelievably, Trump once again claimed that he had never supported the Iraq war. Trump still hasn’t worked out that there are many good reasons why the military would announce the battle for Mosul beforehand, but I doubt many of his supporters have either. Most of the educated women he needs to get to vote for him probably do though, so once again he achieved nothing. However, the segment was short and Clinton did not get the opportunity to demonstrate her expertise in this area.
The CNN/ORC poll following the debate once again gave it to Clinton 52% to 39%. The gap between them on debate performance has thus continued to reduce. Trump definitely had improved from the 2nd debate, but not by enough to claw back his previous losses or improve his standing in the polls. A significant result from the CNN/ORC poll was that 59% thought that Clinton was better prepared to be president while only 35% thought Trump was – that means that more people thought Clinton was better prepared than who thought she won the debate. As for who understood the issues better, Clinton won 61% to 31%.
In other categories, the two scored fairly equally except on foreign policy:
Who agreed with you most on important issues? Clinton 50%, Trump 47%
Who was more sincere and authentic? Clinton 46%, Trump 47%
Who would better handle Supreme Court nominations?: Clinton 48%, Trump 49%
Who would handle the Economy better?: Clinton 50%, Trump 48%
Who would handle the Federal Budget better?: Clinton 50%, Trump 46%
Who would handle Foreign Policy better?: Clinton 55%. Trump 41%
This is my current prediction for the election:
Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com
There are some states I’ve turned blue that I’m not sure of, especially Nevada, Utah and Arizona, but there’s time to change my guesses yet, and three weeks is a long time in politics. What do you think will happen?
If you enjoyed reading this, please consider donating a dollar or two to help keep the site going. Thank you.