Approximately 68.76 million viewers tuned in to watch the final 2016 presidential debate between Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton on Wednesday, October 19 at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Hosted by Fox News’s Chris Wallace the debate was the fourth watched presidential debate ever, “behind the final Carter-Reagan bout in 1980, the second Bush-Clinton-Perot melee in 1992, and the first Ford-Carter showdown in 1976” (http://variety.com/2016/tv/news/tv-ratings-donald-trump-hillary-clinton-final-debate-1201895174/)
Expectations were high for the final Clinton-Trump match up given the closeness of the race, the acrimonious nature of the campaign and the larger than life status of the two candidates.
Here are my top take-aways:
1. Moderator Chris Wallace did an excellent job
The evening’s moderator Fox News’s Chris Wallace did an excellent job of keeping the content of the debate substantive and maintaining control of the debate’s conversation flow. Wallace evenly distributed hard-hitting questions to both candidates. He also stayed true to the role of a moderator and did not attempt to insert himself or his opinions into the dialogue. Again, the recent observations that the moderators of the earlier debates, Lester Holt, Martha Raddatz, and Anderson Cooper exhibited bias towards Clinton, made the importance of neutral moderating all the more critical. To his credit, Wallace asked questions about the dealings between The State Department and the Clinton Foundation, making him the first moderator to ask any questions about the Clinton Foundation. Wallace also focused on the issues that matter. In fact, he opened the debate with a question about the Supreme Court. This is significant because many people believe that the most important issue facing the next president is the appointment of Supreme Court justices as it is very likely that the next president may be appointing between three and four justices who will be on the bench for the next thirty years at least.
2. Both candidates performed equally well.
When you scroll through the internet, you will see that opinions are once again split as to who won the debate. In my personal unscientific opinion, I would say that the debate was a draw. Both candidates had strong moments when discussing substantive issues. Donald Trump had a very effective communication about his opposition to late term abortions where he said,
I think it’s terrible if you go with what Hillary is saying in the ninth month you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby. Now you can say that that’s okay and Hillary can say that that’s okay, but it’s not okay with me.
While Clinton tried to diffuse the starkness of Trump’s language, she did not succeed in diminishing the impact of his emotional description.
For her part, Clinton had a very effective moment when she tried to paint Trump as thinking that the world is conspiring against him when things don’t go his way.
You know, every time Donald thinks things are not going in his direction, he claims whatever it is is rigged against him. The FBI conducted a year-long investigation into my e-mails. They concluded there was no case. He said that the FBI was rigged. He lost the Iowa caucus, he lost the Wisconsin primary. He said the Republican primary was rigged against him. Then Trump University gets sued for fraud and racketeering. He claims the court system and the federal judge is rigged against him. There was even a time when he didn’t get an Emmy for his TV program three years in a row and he started tweeting that the Emmys were rigged.
Trump responded by saying that he “should have gotten it” (the Emmy)
3. Sexual assault allegation conversation was minimal.
It was refreshing to see that the time allocated to questions concerning either the recent “alleged” sexual assault allegations lobbied against Donald Trump or the ones lobbied against former President Bill Clinton were minimal. This line of questioning which fell under the heading of “Fitness to be President” did not take place until well into the second half of the debate.
4. Donald Trump had the signature sound bite of the evening.
Once again, Donald Trump walked away from the debate with the most memorable exchange of the evening when he said that he would “accept a clear election result, but would also reserve the right to contest or file a legal challenge in the case of a questionable result.” Trump used the potential of voter fraud to substantiate his argument. When further pressed on this question, Trump said “I will keep you in suspense”. Naturally, the next day the pundits were all focused on “Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the election”. Nobody seemed to notice that Wallace did not ask the same question of Clinton. Trump followed up his comments on Thursday by saying that if Al Gore or George W. Bush had waived their right to concede the election results three weeks before the election, we would never have had the Supreme Court case which followed the contested results of the 2000 presidential election. Trump topped his comment when he told a rally audience in Delaware, Ohio, “I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election, if I win,”
Interestingly enough, just when we thought we were done with the debates, on Thursday October 20, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both took to the podium at the annual Alfred E. Smith gala in New York City, a Catholic charity event. The two candidates who were seated to the left and the right of New York Cardinal Edward Egan. used their time at the mic took to participate in what is traditionally called self-deprecating humor. Trump scored big when he took on media bias.
But I really have to say the media is even more biased than ever before. You want the proof? Michelle Obama gives a speech. And everyone loves it, it’s fantastic. They think she’s absolutely great. My wife, Melania, gives the exact same speech and people get on her case. And I don’t get it. I don’t know why.
Clinton also had a good moment when she said: “I’ve got to say, there are a lot of friendly faces in this room, people I’ve been privileged to know and to work with — I just want to put you all in a basket of adorables.”
Unfortunately, both candidates could not resist the urge to throw barbs at each other, exhibiting behavior which is not appropriate for a charity event. Given that we only have about three weeks to go until election day, the mutual insults are likely to get even nastier. I guess we can take solace in the fact that Clinton and Trump are not likely to be sitting at the same table again in the next three weeks.