She’s out of his league (Clinton v. Trump Debate III)

Last night was the third and final debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The debate started off in a civil fashion with the candidates trading their opinions about how they would fill the Supreme Court. Hillary said she would support candidates who stood for the rights of minorities, upheld rights of women and the LGBT community; and would make a stand against the Citizen United decision. Trump responded that he would support justices who would ultimately vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. It was an interesting discussion but I am disappointed about how the Supreme Court has been politicized. The Supreme Court is the third branch of government and it used to be taken as gospel that litmus tests were not acceptable for the selection of justices, but both candidates seemed to pitch their own litmus tests.

The conversation turned to gun legislation where Hillary recounted her support for closing loopholes on gun purchases. Trump could only emphasize his support of the second amendment.

Then the debate turned to immigration and here things went bad for Trump. He started pretty well by pointing out that Hillary was ducking a question about border control and reiterating his support for strong borders. He also came out predictably against amnesty while accusing Hillary of being for completely open borders. But he made a major slip when he sad bad people were coming across the border calling them “bad hombres”, this rang as kind of a racist dog whistle given the fact that Trump has never used the term before and has spoken terribly about people of Hispanic descent.

After this, the discussion turned to foreign policy which is a topic that is completely out of Trump’s depth. He returned to his habit of giving long rambling answers which are not very coherent. Hillary repeated her support for “safe zones” and a no fly zone in Syria. If Trump had any knowledge of foreign policy he could create a good counter argument based on challenging Hillary on how she would implement a no fly zone. Trump missed this opportunity.

The debate then turned to the national budget. Trump claimed that he would be able to increase growth of the economy to 5 or 6 percent while attacking Hillary’s 30 year history on policy. Hillary countered by recounting her 30 year career of fighting for social justice while reminding the audience that Trump’s business career was not as successful as he would like people to believe. The comparison was effective in diminishing Trump as a businessman while elevating Hillary to a presidential stature.

As a recap, Hillary continued her strategy of setting rhetorical traps for Trump to walk into. Trump has displayed that he has a pathological inability to ignore slights whether real or perceived. This attitude may be effective for a businessman, but it is a liability for a person who can decide to plunge the country into nuclear war. Trump also made some serious missteps by reinforcing the idea that he is racist. He also weirdly refused to repudiate Putin, and most egregiously he refused to say whether he would accept the results of the election. This last issue is incredible because he is essentially threatening to upset the basis of democracy if he loses. He has been pushing the idea that the election results might be “rigged” and therefore illegitimate. This is dangerous because he has people who follow him and actually believe some of the things he might say. If the election is viewed as illegitimate it could pose very serious problems for the nation. This kind of challenge has been unthinkable in American history.

My final thought is about the moderator Chris Wallace. Chris Wallace gave a master class in how to moderate a debate. He was by far the best moderator in these debates. He asked the most insightful questions and the manner in which he asked the questions put the candidates on the spot to answer thoughtfully. He expertly controlled the pace of the debate and was able to keep the candidates and audience functioning within the confines of his predetermined format. Under these conditions, Trump was actually not bad in the beginning. As the debate wore on he became visibly frustrated with his opponent, the moderator, and the debate itself. He gave clumsy answers on subjects in which he was not well versed and looked immature when he disagreed with Hillary. In contrast Hillary showed herself to be a skilled debater, with wide breadth and depth of knowledge and substance on policy. While both candidates lack the ability to express a developed vision for the nation, at least Hillary has a set of priorities with clear plans on how to achieve them. On the other hand, Trump reflected the negative tendencies of the Republican Party by solely expressing his opposition to Hillary’s policies without describing any platform of issues or strategy to back up his claims that he could deliver on immigration and the economy.

Chris Wallace proved that if a moderator asks the right questions in the right way and controls the debate it is much easier to decipher which candidate has a superior grasp of the issues. For this reason Chris Wallace was the big winner of the debate, and Hillary demonstrated that she is out of Trump’s league when it comes to discussions of policy.