By Steven R. Maher
While the debate performance of Donald J. Trump had clearly improved since the first two debates, Trump manifestly failed to change the trajectory of the presidential race, and reverse the historical tide flowing in favor of Hillary Clinton during the third Presidential debate. Trump needed a big win at the October 19, 2016, debate to expand his voter base. Trump didn’t get one.
The biggest winner of the night was Fox News’ Chris Wallace. Unlike the moderators overseeing the previous debates, Wallace didn’t abet Clinton. Rather than be drawn into disputing what either candidate said, Wallace went silent when he saw Trump or Clinton were determined to have their say. He adroitly pivoted to questions on new subjects without being either overbearing or unsubtle. It was a bravura performance by Wallace, one both Wallace and Fox News could take pride in.
Both liberal and conservative pundits were in unanimous agreement on one point: Trump did enormous damage to himself by stating that he would decide after the election, whether or not to accept the legitimacy of the election results.
“I will look at it at the time,” said Trump. “I’ll keep you in suspense.”
On this, Andrew Breitbart, Brit Hume, Megyn Kelly, and Laura Ingraham of Fox News concurred with Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, and James Carville of MSNBC that this was an egregious gaffe that undermined Trump’s entire debate performance.
This showed extremely poor preparation on the part of either Trump or his handlers. Whether Trump would accept the legitimacy of the electorate’s decision had been the subject of widespread speculation before the debate. Indeed, InCity Times published prior to the debate an online article disputing Trump’s assertion that widespread voter identification fraud would result in a “rigged” election. A question on the subject was inevitable.
One pundit pointed that Trump could have avoided this controversy by stating that he, like Al Gore in 2000, would feel free to call for a recount if the margin of defeat in a swing state like Florida was infinitesimal. No one could have objected to such a response. Instead, Trump gave the response Clinton was probably praying for.
Shoring up base
Trump, as happened in the first two debates, started out strong, and made his major blunders in the last half of the debate. His objection to the horrendous procedure known as “partial birth abortion” and 2nd Amendment rights likely shored up Trump’s dissipating base of Republican religious voters and gun advocates. Clinton did the same among pro-choice voters, stressing the torment felt by women who made the extraordinarily difficult decision to have an abortion. Clinton reiterated that she was not against the 2nd Amendment, but wanted to work to stop guns from getting into the hands of mass murderers who commit atrocities, like the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando Florida.
Clinton baited Trump, calling him Vladimir Putin’s “puppet,” and making other comments clearly intended to provoke Trump into making one of his thought-purging diatribes. In this Clinton was wildly successful, as Trump repeatedly spoke angrily, evoking the image of man lacking the necessary temperament to be President. Watching the debate, this writer half expected Trump to pull off one of his shoes and begin banging the podium in a fury, a la Nikita Khrushchev at the United Nations.
Trump spoke several times without thinking, as he demonstrated once again his ingrained prejudices towards women and Hispanics. Trump’s response to a question about immigration included this aside: “We have some bad hombres here and we will have to get them out.” When Clinton criticized Trump, the Donald snarled, “Such a nasty woman.”
The optics favored Clinton. She was more assertive than at the previous debate, smiling like Ronald Reagan when Trump verbally attacked her. Someone apparently forgot to tell Trump that the broadcast would show his face while Clinton spoke. He looked like the Saturday Night Live caricature by Alex Baldwin, grumpily grimacing as Clinton spoke, repeatedly blurting out the word “Wrong.”
In recent weeks Trump in his stump speeches criticized Clinton for spending so much time preparing for this debate. Clinton spent the time well, and was much better prepared for this debate than Trump.
Clinton’s to lose
This election is now Hillary Clinton’s to lose. As it stands now, Clinton – unless there is a massive hidden Brexit-like vote for Trump – will win with long coattails, likely carrying with her into office a Democratic Senate and possibly a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. Unless she makes a stupendous gaffe, or a WikiLeaks download reveals something enormously destructive about her, Hillary Clinton will be elected President of the United States in less than three weeks.