Generally I look forward to presidential debates. They only happen every four years, they matter tremendously and you get to see candidates confront one another and try to respond coherently to questions live in front of millions. It’s very high stakes stuff and excellent theater. Not this year. The first debate made me nervous. The second debate made me physically sick. Last night’s debate made me glad they were over.
Perhaps it was something of an improvement over the second debate. Donald Trump was still nasty of course (at one point by calling Hillary Clinton “nasty”) but was kept behind a podium instead of wandering the stage and using his bulk to intimidate Clinton. For the first thirty minutes or so, Trump managed to look sober and didn’t interrupt. You knew though that it would not last, and as it winded on and as moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News got into the more inflammatory questions it quickly became pass the Pepto Bismol time.
What made the headlines of course was Trump’s assertion that he would not automatically accept the results of the election. Both Clinton and Chris Wallace called him out, citing numerous authorities that our election system worked well and accurately reported results. Of course Trump would not back down. He just said he’ll see. If he loses and does not concede defeat it would make him the first candidate since 1860 to question the results of a presidential election. In 1860 Abraham Lincoln’s election led to the Civil War. His remarks put Republican candidates in even bigger jeopardy, as everyone now wants to know if they agree with Trump.
Clinton was cool, confident and returned volley for volley, which likely triggered Trump’s “wicked” remark about Hillary. Mostly she smiled and looked great; doubtless the campaign is paying for an excellent makeup artist. Perhaps it was just her seemingly uppity attitude that set Trump off. Apparently in his mind women aren’t allowed to be uppity and he clearly doesn’t like being challenged.
Clinton was also coherent whereas Trump frequently made factual errors. Overall though he seemed better informed than the first debate, suggesting he at least did a little preparation. It was excruciatingly hard to parse through his thoughts as he rarely completed sentences. Rather they stretched on and on with miscellaneous thoughts coming in an ad hoc manner in the middle of them. And what debate with Donald Trump would be complete without packs of lies that are easily fact checked and in fact were reused from previous debates? In short he was hardly anymore convincing in this debate than he was during the other debates. If he convinced any new voters, they were likely only a handful. Instead, he catered to his core supporters and he can’t win an election with just them.
So basically no minds were changed which made the debate kind of pointless, unless you were there to hear more about what Hillary Clinton would do for the country. Chris Wallace asked her to talk about her husband’s infidelity but she deftly dodged the issue and used her two minutes to question Trump’s instead and to highlight his sexist attitudes toward women. She leaned left on many issues in the debate, particularly in the areas of abortion rights and supporting Planned Parenthood. She refused to be characterized as anti-gun, while supporting modest, common sense laws prohibiting or limiting gun purchases for narrowly targeted people. She knew all she really needed to do was show up, sound coherent and act presidential. She had to goof up to change the dynamics of the race, but did use opportunities to bait Trump so he would fall into his own traps.
Anyhow, thank goodness it’s over. I’m hoping four years from now I can look forward to these debates again. I had to force myself to watch them, which is unusual to say the least. I noticed that for all his bravado after the debate Trump’s shoulders were slumped, a nonverbal admission perhaps that his denouement had already started and he knew he was beaten.