Trump vs. Clinton: The Last Hurrah

Image by Abby Lass

By Henry Feldman

Political Correspondant

Historically, the final debate has been a pivotal moment in presidential elections, allowing candidates one last chance to pitch their message to the American people. In 1980, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were in a dead heat just a week before election day when Reagan’s superior debate performance earned him a landslide victory. With a few memorable lines, Reagan made voters think twice about re-electing the man responsible for America’s widespread economic illness.

Heading into last night’s debate, however, most people agreed that Trump vs. Clinton: Round Three would be a somewhat inconsequential affair. The contest had already reached its climactic moment ten days ago in St. Louis, and the candidates simply couldn’t be more vicious or divisive. Clinton had also opened up huge polling leads in many key states. Trump would need a miracle performance to change voters’ minds, and he had already exhausted all of his attacks in previous debates. For these reasons, it seemed like Wednesday’s battle at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas would be nothing more than a recap of the candidates’ stances on important issues– and for the most part, these expectations held true.

The first half of the debate was filled with substance, as the candidates stayed away from personal attacks. Fox News Moderator Chris Wallace opened with a series of questions surrounding the Supreme Court before asking Clinton and Trump to clarify their stances on abortion and the Second Amendment. Clinton used these prompts as an opportunity to speak generally about the Supreme Court’s activist role in American society, emphasizing that the court should stand with the American people, not wealthy corporations. She also shared her plan to appoint judges that will uphold Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges, respect LGBT rights and overturn Citizens United.

Trump provided a strong response of his own, notably looking down at his notes before speaking. This is not something we have seen much of from the unfiltered Republican nominee, and his performance throughout the first 45 minutes was uncharacteristically serious. He began by dishing out a slew of quintessential Republican values, promising to appoint strict constructionists that will promote conservative beliefs. Trump also passionately defended the Second Amendment, which he feels is “under siege” by Clinton and the Democratic Party. He cited his NRA endorsement and his pro-life stance, hoping to connect with mainstream Republicans whose support he has lost since the infamous Billy Bush tapes were released. While discussing abortion, Trump employed some vivid imagery to demonize Clinton for being pro-choice and allowing late term abortions. This seemed to be an effective tactic, even if Clinton brushed it off as “scare rhetoric.”

As the conversation shifted to immigration reform, the candidates spelled out their partisan plans one last time. Trump emphasized the need to secure our borders, throw up the wall, and send back all the “bad hombres” to Mexico. This comment was evidently racist, considering that Trump was associating the whole hispanic immigrant population with drugs and criminal behavior. Huffington Post editor Carolina Moreno seems to agree, contending that “[the use of] Spanish while discussing immigrants in a negative fashion is almost meant to prompt voters to link the entire Latino population with something negative.” It is also important to understand that this was no offhand comment. Trump slipped in the “bad hombres” remark just after he had outlined his immigration policies that focus on keeping Mexican immigrants from flocking to the US and on kicking out the ones that are already here. I’ve tried to stay impartial throughout these recaps, but I feel a responsibility to point out this glaring racism.

 I found myself mouthing some of the soundbites as the candidates were saying them, which either means that I need a break from politics, or that our election season has been going on for way too long– or both.

It was at this point that the debate was getting more hostile, and the candidates began to attack each other, as we saw them do throughout the first two debates. Clinton and Trump pivoted from immigration to discuss a random array of related topics, delving into everything from Vladimir Putin to NAFTA and trade policies. When Trump pressed Clinton on her comments about open borders that were revealed in a recent WikiLeak, the Democratic nominee clarified that she was talking about energy, not trade. Clinton then utilized this opportunity to condemn the involvement of Russian hackers in the election, and demanded her opponent to do the same. She has tried to remain calm during the debates to amplify the effect of Trump’s tantrums, but this discussion clearly made her angry. Clinton repeatedly invoked the investigations of 17 intelligence agencies that said Russia and Putin are trying to intervene in our election, but Trump still refused to place full blame on Russia, speculating that any country could be responsible for the hacking.

From here on out, the dialogue felt all too familiar. I found myself mouthing some of the soundbites as the candidates were saying them, which either means that I need a break from politics, or that our election season has been going on for way too long– or both. When discussing the economy, Trump again casted himself as a classic fiscal Republican who will take Codeine pain relief drug He ripped into Clinton for her failure to deal with economic problems throughout her 30 year political career, and compared America’s economy to other world powers with higher GDPs. Clinton similarly stuck to the mainstream ideas of her party when discussing how she will grow the economy. She talked about investing in the American people from the bottom up, raising taxes on the wealthy to redistribute the balance of power. Clinton also made it clear that she wants to bring jobs back from overseas, and took a shot at Trump’s use of Chinese steel to build many of his structures.

At the very end of the debate, when the candidates were finally asked about foreign policy, they devoted most of their energy to criticizing each others’ plans and past records on the subject. Of course, they argued about whether or not Trump supported the Iraq War, and Trump squeezed in some effective insults about Clinton’s judgement. Besides expressing sadness about the situation in Aleppo, neither candidate provided an in-depth answer as to how they will handle the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

The single most discussed remark from the debate that I have not yet mentioned was Trump’s answer to one of Wallace’s questions about respecting the result of the election. Though Trump said previously that he would honor America’s choice, he has recently responded to poor polling numbers by making claims that the election system is rigged. To Wallace’s question, Trump said, “I will look at it at the time. I will leave you in suspense, ok?” Clinton and many mainstream media organizations are disgusted by this comment, as it intends to undermine the legitimacy of our democracy. Many feel that by expressing this doubt, Trump could incite violent riots and protests if November 8 does not turn out the way his supporters want it to.

All in all, the third and final Presidential Debate wasn’t an epic last battle that will be remembered for decades. The increasingly big polling leads for Clinton have taken some of the life out of the race, and Wednesday’s contest felt undramatic compared to what we saw in St. Louis.

Election day is now only a few weeks away, and the candidates will scramble to make some last minute campaign stops to battleground states. I encourage all of you eligible voters to get to the polls on November 8th and exercise your civic duty. Showing up late to your first block class may seem like a big deal in the moment, but you’ll be happy that you did, considering that the fate of the free world is on the line. Good luck, America!