A slightly muted version of Donald Trump faced Hillary Clinton in the final presidential debate and left voters and the political class wondering what his endgame is if he fails to win the White House.
“I will keep you in suspense, okay?” he said when asked whether he would accept the outcome of the election and concede defeat.
But in a night when Mr. Trump had his final chance to deliver parting shots against the Democratic front-runner as they shared the same Las Vegas stage, it was Ms. Clinton who deftly handled the Republican presidential candidate.
She got under his skin, called him a “puppet” of the Russian President, and mocked his “crocodile tears” over American jobs shipped overseas.
Mr. Trump was not nearly as agitated, reckless and angry as in the first two debates. But there were still flashes of “Hurricane Donald” over the course of 90 minutes in front of tens of millions of viewers.
Also, Mr. Trump could not escape the continuing controversy related to nine women who allege that the businessman groped them in incidents going back to the 1980s. Ms. Clinton was there to strike when Mr. Trump tried to dismiss the women as liars seeking fame.
Here are the highlights from the third presidential debate.
Segment 1: Supreme Court
That was a pretty icy opening to the final debate. The candidates barely looked at each other, let alone shook hands. That makes this the second debate that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton did not open with that measure of cordiality.
This section drew pretty clear distinctions between the candidates on their visions for the Supreme Court.
Ms. Clinton: Supreme Court needs to stand on the side of the American people, not on the side of the wealthy, and stand up for the rights of the LGBT community.
“The Supreme Court is what it’s all about,” says the Republican candidate. Mr. Trump says the country’s gun laws are at stake as outlined in the second amendment. He will choose justices that are pro-life, protect gun rights, and interpret the Constitution the way the founders wanted it.
Moderator Chris Wallace moves to abortion. “Do you want to the court to overturn Roe v Wade?” Mr. Trump outlines that it will likely happen if he appoints pro-life justices.
This is about as civilized an opening as we have seen in the three presidential debates.
Segment 2: Immigration
On illegal immigrants, Mr. Trump says: “We have some bad hombres here and we’re going to get them out.”
The Democratic candidate needles Mr. Trump over his Mexico trip and reported failure to raise the issue of who would pay for the wall he promised. “He choked,” she says, and then got into a Twitter war with the Mexican government.
What is fascinating about this section is how Ms. Clinton turns a question about her leaked speeches into an attack on Mr. Trump.
Mr. Wallace quotes a line in one of the leaked speeches. “My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders,” she said in one of the speeches, according to transcripts made public by Wikileaks .
Ms. Clinton points out that the quote is taken out of context and that she was speaking to energy policy. She then proceeds to raise the allegation that Russia is involved in some of the Clinton staff e-mail hacks, and then tries to ding Mr. Trump for his soft stand toward Russia.
Mr. Trump is now on a tear. He is hot under the collar, and argues that Russian President Vladimir Putin does not respect Ms. Clinton.
“Well that’s because he’d rather have a puppet as president for the United States,” Ms. Clinton fires back.
Segment 3: Economy
Mr. Trump repeats his regular line that country’s economy is stagnant.
Mr. Trump: Our country is stagnant, the country’s jobs are moving to other countries and the U.S. is not making things any more.
Ms. Clinton’s assessment of the Obama administration policy to get the economy going: “We’re standing, but we’re not running.”
Ms. Clinton reminds viewers that only one candidate has shipped jobs abroad. She claims Mr. Trump has shipped jobs to 12 countries, including Mexico. She cites the example of the Trump hotel in Las Vegas that used Chinese steel and dismisses his “crocodile tears” over jobs being shipped abroad.
A remarkable response from Mr. Trump: “Make it impossible for me to do that. I wouldn’t mind.”
Mr. Trump uses a very effective line that he’s used before: “The one thing you have over me is experience, but it’s bad experience.”
Ms. Clinton fires back, reminding viewers that while she was in the situation room at the White House during the Osama bin Laden raid, Mr. Trump was on Celebrity Apprentice.
Segment 4: Fitness to be president
The second debate has a memorable question from CNN’s Anderson Cooper about whether Mr. Trump has ever followed through on his lewd talk about kissing and groping women against their consent. Mr. Trump says he has never followed through on that kind of behaviour.
Many women have stepped forward to claim otherwise.
The moderator follows up with Mr. Trump. “Why would they make up those stories?” he asks.
Mr. Trump claims that the Clinton campaign is behind it. “I didn’t even apologize to my wife, who’s sitting here, because I didn’t do anything,” he says, adding that the women are lying and seeking fame.
Ms. Clinton reminds viewers that in the days after the controversial video and stories of women claiming he had groped them, Mr. Trump went on the campaign trail and disparaged the women because they were not attractive enough and they would not be his first choice.
“I did not say that,” he says emphatically. But, in fact, Mr. Trump did make those claims on the campaign trail.
The most remarkable moment comes when Mr. Trump is asked whether he will accept the outcome of the election. “I will tell you at the time,” he says.
In other words, Mr. Trump is not backing down from strong rhetoric that the election is rigged.
Segment 5: Foreign hot spots
The question is about the battle against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
Ms. Clinton says she does not support American boots on the ground because it would be a “big red flag waving for ISIS to reconstitute itself.”
She talks about an intelligence surge against the Islamic State, and going after fighters using special forces on the ground, and online.
Mr. Trump mocks Ms. Clinton and the recent military operation to retake the city of Mosul in Iraq, arguing that there is no element of surprise and the fighters have left the city. He then makes a rather outlandish claim: that the timing of the Mosul operation is meant to help Ms. Clinton’s campaign.
There is a back-and-forth between the candidates over whether Mr. Trump supported the Iraq war. Ms. Clinton urges viewers to Google “Donald Trump Iraq.”
The segment pivots to Syrian refugees and Mr. Trump warns viewers that Ms. Clinton’s refugee plan would allow a “Trojan horse” into the country.
“I’m not going to let anyone in this country who is not vetted. But I am not going to slam the door on women and children,” she says.
She also criticizes Mr. Trump’s claim that the Mosul operation has been timed to happen in the middle of the presidential campaign – and that it benefits Ms. Clinton.
“But that’s how Donald thinks,” she says, adding that he always seeking conspiracy theories.
Mr. Trump has a strong line: “We should never have let ISIS happen in the first place.”
The implication is that the Obama administration, which Ms. Clinton was a part of, dropped the ball in allowing the Islamic State to rise.
Segment 6: National debt
The final section deals with the weighty issues of the national debt and entitlement programs, such as social security.
Ms. Clinton argues that the U.S. needs to add to the Social Security trust fund by raising taxes on the wealthy.
Mr. Trump interjects: “Such a nasty woman.”
It is an ugly moment.
The moderator, Mr. Wallace, invites both candidates to make closing statements to the American people.
That wasn’t part of the original format, and his argument is that the candidates would not have already prepared such statements.
No surprises here. Ms. Clinton reprises earlier arguments: that she has seen the presidency up close and that she has fought for women and children all her life. It is an upbeat message to viewers that puts families first.
Mr. Trump talks about making America great again – he laments a weakened military and gun-plagued inner cities, and promises to improve the lives of blacks and Hispanics. “We cannot take four more years of Barack Obama and that’s what you get” with Ms. Clinton, he says.
He does not mention that Mr. Obama’s approval ratings are at a high, hovering around 50 per cent.
And that is a wrap. The candidates do not shake hands.
Before the third presidential debate
Polls: Ms. Clinton has enjoyed an October bump in national polls, although several battleground states continue to be tight races.
The analysis of polls appears to show that Ms. Clinton has benefited from a shift in women voters after the 2005 Access to Hollywood video controversy that has dogged the Trump campaign since Oct. 7. But Mr. Trump is still within striking distance in several battleground states.
- Ohio: Trump ahead by four percentage points (CNN) among likely voters in a four-way race; Trump-Clinton tie (Quinnipiac).
- Florida: Clinton ahead by four points (Quinnipiac).
- Pennsylvania: Clinton ahead by six points (Quinnipiac).
- North Carolina: Clinton ahead by one point (CNN).
- Nevada: Clinton ahead by two points (CNN).
- Colorado: Clinton ahead by eight points (Quinnipiac).
Plot line: With three weeks until voting day, each candidate should be preparing to make their closing arguments for why they are fit for the White House and ready to govern.
But the 2016 election campaign is still in the mud-slinging phase. This is Mr. Trump’s last opportunity in front of an audience of tens of millions to have a go at Ms. Clinton.
Whatever his arguments about the election process being rigged, Mr. Trump is not going to pass up the opportunity to enthrall his base of supporters by throwing more insults, taunts and allegations in Ms. Clinton’s direction.
Buzz: After plagiarism allegations following her Republican National Convention speech in July, Melania Trump has kept a low profile.
But this week, Mr. Trump’s wife sat down for interviews to address allegations that her husband had groped at least half dozen women going back to the 1980s.
Ms. Trump called the claims lies and dismissed the controversial 2005 video as “boy talk” in which her husband was “egged on” by host Billy Bush.
Meanwhile, Mr. Trump continues to tear at the electoral process, warning his supporters that the election will be rigged against him and votes will be stolen.
His battle with the Republican Party continues unabated.
On Monday night, he said House Speaker Paul Ryan is not supporting him because of his own ambition to run for president in 2020.
Ms. Clinton is not without her own controversies.
First, there are lingering questions over her use of a private e-mail server and address to handle classified information during her tenure as U.S. secretary of state.
The latest revelation came on Monday. Read more about that here: State Dept. official ‘pressured’ FBI to declassify Clinton e-mail: documents
The second controversy is to do with WikiLeaks releasing batches of thousands of hacked e-mails between senior Clinton aides. The releases are likely to continue until the election and provide a window into the Clinton machine.
The most damaging so far relate to Ms. Clinton’s paid Wall Street speeches, which were the focus of much debate during the Democratic primaries. Bernie Sanders called on her to release the transcripts; she refused.
We now have excerpts of those speeches, and it’s clear why Ms. Clinton wanted to keep those speeches secret:
Politics is like sausage being made. It is unsavoury, and it always has been that way, but we usually end up where we need to be. But if everybody's watching, you know, all of the back room discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to say the least. So, you need both a public and a private position.
In another speech excerpt, she reportedly said:
My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders, some time in the future with energy that is as green and sustainable as we can get it, powering growth and opportunity for every person in the hemisphere.
The speeches feed into a narrative that Ms. Clinton, contrary to the image she sought to project during the primaries, is bound to Wall Street and that what she says in public is not what she actually believes privately. She was paid an estimated $26-million for speeches after leaving the Obama administration.
ANDREW HARNIK/ASSOCIATED PRESS
The experts: What to watch in the final debate
We reached out to our panel of experts who have been weighing in before each debate to set up what viewers should watch for and what each candidate needs to do in order to win the final debate. Here are some of their insights.
What to watch: Alan Schroeder, professor of journalism at Northeastern University and author of Presidential Debates: Risky Business on the Campaign Trail, expects more of Mr. Trump as the proverbial bull in the china shop.
I expect that Clinton will do everything in her power to stay out of Trump's way in the third debate, to the extent possible. The lectern format should help make that at least somewhat easier than the town hall format did.
Trump's unpredictability will be heightened in this third debate, making it difficult for Clinton to prepare and pursue a cohesive strategy. But I'll be watching to see how she responds to what is likely to be an even more reckless performance by Trump than we have seen to date.
Kelly Dittmar, assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University and scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics, will be looking to see whether Ms. Clinton tries a more aggressive strategy in countering Mr. Trump’s attacks. Thus far, Ms. Clinton is following Michelle Obama’s maxim: “When they go low, we go high.”
Female political candidates have to walk a fine line when attempting a more aggressive strategy: not to violate societal stereotypes of femininity that bind women and sometimes penalize them when step outside the norms, Dr. Dittmar explained.
The literarture in our experience of women in politics would say that we would reactive more negatively perhaps to that sort of aggression [from a female candidate]. So the Clinton strategy to go high is surely one way to just avoid getting in the pit with Donald Trump because there seems to be no way of winning.
In other words, the Clinton campaign strategy at a time when Ms. Clinton appears on pace to win the White House will be to play it safe and not get in the mud with Mr. Trump.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, professor of communications and director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, will be looking for significant distinctions between the candidates on key topics.
What are they going to be do about he national debt for example? What is their theory about it? Do they assume that we can afford much more debt? Do they assume that it’s something we have to deal with? And if so, how are they going to deal with it?
The interest on the national debt and the cost of entitlement programs such as social security are going to make the issue of debt all consuming, Dr. Jamieson added.
But there is another reason that candidates need to project how they will govern and what they will do in the White House.
Dr. Jamieson is overseeing a large-scale panel of 5,000 voters and the findings so far should trouble both campaigns: They view both candidates negatively, they think the country is on the wrong track, and they are not enthusiastic about their presidential choices.
When the number that says I’m voting because I oppose the other candidate is high, what the debate lets you do is shift that to the answer that says, 'No I’m actually voting for someone. I have reason to favour this candidate not simply to oppose the other.'
A debate is not simply about winning over the number of votes you need to be elected, it’s about changing the nature of the vote so it is about a vote for your vision of governance.
FIRST AND SECOND DEBATE HIGHLIGHTS
To win the third debate: Prof. Schroeder of Northeastern University breaks down what candidate needs to do in order to win. First, here’s what Mr. Trump needs to do:
For Trump the only definition of winning would involve his ability to attract new voters, as opposed to firing up those who already support him. If he cannot do this – and so far he has not been able to – then I don't see how he wins the debate.
And second for Ms. Clinton, here is what she needs to do in order to win:
Clinton has won the first two debates essentially by not coming across as a lunatic. That's a low bar, but all she has to do in order to prevail is let her opponent indulge his worst traits, as he has done in the previous encounters.
AFTER THE THIRD DEBATE: FULL ANALYSIS
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