I don’t have time for thematic organization and flowing paragraphs. Time for some rambling.
In the first debate, they shook hands before and after. In the second, it was only after. Last night, there were no handshakes. If there were a fourth debate, they might not even look at each other.
In the second debate, the first half hour was the most embarrassing 30 minutes of the election. In the third debate, however, the first half hour was surprisingly civil. It was as if, for a couple questions at least, they still retained all the advice they got about being positive and on message. Chris Wallace did a great job bring up issues where the two candidates disagreed, and then they each talked about their positions. The debate gradually circled the drain afterwards, but for a while we had a real debate,
It was remarkable that on those early issues, each candidate proudly and eagerly disagreed. Little spin was necessary; both candidates felt that clear differentiation from one’s opponent was all that was required. On abortion, Hillary Clinton boasted about her support of a women’s right to choose. Donald Trump proudly countered as pro-life, admitting he would appoint judges that would overturn Roe v. Wade. On guns, Trump brandished his pro-Second Amendment credentials with the NRA, while Clinton tried to use his closeness with the NRA against him. That was what debates between Democratic and Republican nominees are supposed to look like!
I’ll join the refrain that loved Chris Wallace’s performance as moderator. He surely earned another invitation in four years, assuming President Trump allows another election to be held. In the early stages mentioned above, he brought up each candidate’s more controversial positions — Trump’s support for unrestricted assault rifle and high magazine capacity access and Clinton’s allowance for late term abortion when the life of the mother is at risk — and did his best to force them to answer when the candidates bobbed and weaved. He also worked in immigration, the national debt, and entitlements three pressing issues to which moderators from the first two debates gave little time.
My favorite five seconds of this entire election: “No puppet. No puppet. You’re the puppet! No you’re the puppet!”
For voters claiming to prefer positivity and solutions over negative attacks and accusations, any viewer who made it to the unprepared closing statements found a clear contrast there. Clinton went first, and she reached out to both parties and independents, saying we need to pull together to help children and families against the powerful by raising income and improving education. Trump countered with accusations about Clinton’s motivations, an America that’s going to Hell, attacks against Clinton’s apathy toward minorities, and a condemnation of the Obama presidency. One can argue about the accuracy or sincerity of either candidate’s closing statement, but in regards to positivity and solutions, there is no comparison.
I thought Trump won on immigration and trade, and he was vastly improved on justifying his foreign policy, even if he was a rambling, pigeon-feeding old man on Syria and Iraq, including when he again had no idea what was going on in Aleppo, which Wallace called him out on and Trump responded with as much misdirection he could muster. I continue to think that if Trump just talked more about those issues and spent less time digging a deeper hole on all the personal stuff, he’d be doing a lot better. But his ego can’t let anything slide.
Really, it was, by far, his best debate yet, primary or general. (Low bar, but still.) I’m forced to wonder if this novice has, with experience, just started to learn the art of the debate. I wouldn’t be surprised if he challenged Clinton to another one, which she would of course refuse (you know, like the drug test) allowing him to turn that into a talking point on cowardice. That’s not to say she’s an inferior debater — she again proved much more knowledgeable, prepared, and even-tempered (which Trump is now baselessly attributing to advance knowledge of the questions) — but with a big national lead, she wants to limit as many remaining variables as possible.
Clinton was strong, too, particularly on taxes, the debt, and entitlements (three areas where, with a more competent, well-read candidate, Republicans traditionally have the advantage). Trump kept saying untrue things (“she’s going to double your taxes”??), while both Clinton and Wallace referenced nonpartisan sources that favored Clinton’s plans, which frustrated Trump. On entitlements, he was lost at sea without a compass, talking instead about cutting taxes and repealing Obamacare like he was a broken, angry robot until Wallace just gave up trying to get an answer. Clinton, by comparison, was calm, confident, and detailed. Debate prep again served her well.
Still, her pathetic attempt to move from “open borders” (a prime example of how misleading a quote out of context can be) to Trump’s supposed friendship to Putin was cringe-worthy. Trump had a great comeback to it that would have been the most memorable moment of the night (“That was a great pivot off the fact that she wants open borders. Okay? How did we get on to Putin?”) if it weren’t for…
…Trump’s stubborn refusal to admit that more people might vote for Hillary Clinton over him. Despite Trump’s improvement in last night’s debate, we’re all faced with the same headline this morning: Trump Does Not Promise to Respect Election Results. Perhaps the worst part was that he was so flippant about it (“I’ll keep you in suspense,” he said fighting off a smirk), as if it weren’t an incredibly and dangerous serious position he was taking.
The liberal media pounced on it to deflect from Trump’s improved performance, while the narrative from the conservative media is that he would have won the debate going away except for this colossal error that cost him that victory. Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt said Trump won 14 of 15 rounds but knocked himself out in the other. Fox News’s Charles Krauthammer said Trump was winning “on points” before committing “political suicide” with the gaffe.
It’s a microcosm of the campaign, really. If Trump stuck to trade, immigration, and being an outsider that can clean up the mess in Washington, he’d be doing much better. And you know that to whatever extent he had debate prep, he was warned this question was coming and what the proper way to answer it was — that is, a quick promise to abide by the election results (which he already at the end of the first debate!) and then get back to the issues that made him popular. But when he gets conspiratorial and crazy-uncle-ish, he loses credibility. Enough people are clearly fine with his ignorance on the nuances of domestic policy or total guess-work when asked about specifics on the world stage, so if he can just be the candidate of change, he’d probably win, especially against this Democratic nominee.
But the man can’t get out of his own way, and that — not a biased media or crooked local poll volunteers — is why he’ll probably lose this election.
Sorry for any typos. Back to work.