CNN commentators and guest analysts offer their take on Wednesday night’s final presidential debate. The opinions expressed in these commentaries are solely theirs.
Julian Zelizer: A stunning moment in the debate
The most troubling part of the debate for many observers came when Donald Trump would not say that he will accept the results of the election.
“I’ll tell you at the time—I’ll keep you in suspense, OK?” he said, words that will provoke great concern among those who feel he is raising dangerous questions about the legitimacy of this election and the results—assuming he does not win.
Still, in many ways the debate was more conventional than anyone expected. Hillary Clinton was at her best when she found the opportunities to be aggressive on domestic policy issues.
During the discussions over the second amendment, women’s rights and immigration, she displayed a level of confidence and knowledge that allowed her to take Donald Trump on with gusto. She also hit him very hard when Chris Wallace turned the discussion to his comments about women and the accusations of sexual harassment that have emerged. Even as he blamed her campaign for spreading the allegations, Clinton remained focused on the women’s stories.
With the exception of his “suspense” remark, Trump did not implode. He was generally able to contain his outbursts—with some exceptions and Alec Baldwin type “wrong”s in the microphone while Wallace’s questions prompted Clinton to stumble about her position on open borders.
Clinton moved the conversation deep into allegations about Putin, taking them away from the differences on immigration that could energize the Obama coalition. Trump was able to get in some points, such as his promise to appoint a conservative Supreme Court judge who could bring back some conservatives who have been deserting the GOP candidate. He was still able to repeat some of his familiar quips like calling the Clinton Foundation “a criminal enterprise.”
But then the election comes down to the reality of the numbers. The data show that Trump and the GOP are in serious trouble. He is not winning in battleground states, he is struggling in some conservative states, and he is certainly not expanding the number of red states. Just looking at the math, it’s hard to see how he wins the Electoral College. If Trump scored any points, this debate alone won’t be enough to transform the basic picture of the electoral battle. And if it was a tie, the benefit goes to Clinton given her increasing lead.
Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University and a New America fellow. He is the author of “Jimmy Carter” and “The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society.”
David Gergen: Trump missed this last chance
Years ago, among the casinos of Atlantic City, Donald Trump raised the curtain on an expanded career in business. Last night, among the casinos of Las Vegas, he seemingly lowered the curtain on his career in politics.
That he has come as far as he has in politics remains one of the most improbable stories of our time. He created an army of followers that will continue to shake the American landscape. Still, one always sensed there would be a moment of personal reckoning. It came last night.
Trump emerged from the GOP primaries with a reputation for putting away his opponents, knowing just where their jugular was and ripping into them. His swagger and refusal to prepare seriously for the presidential debates suggested a confidence that he could do the same to Hillary Clinton.
But in their first debate together, she clobbered him, ending his upward surge. Over the next 23 days leading up to Las Vegas, he not only lost a second time to her but drove his campaign into a ditch. He ran the worst fall campaign of any candidate in memory.
Thus, he came into last night’s debate desperate for victory. For the first 40 minutes, it looked like he might actually pull it off. But just as he did in the other encounters, he began to lose steam and, importantly, lose control of his ego. Wild charges, interruptions, defensiveness all resurfaced – some would say his persecution complex kicked in. She kept her cool and sure enough, CNN’s poll found that viewers thought she won: 52% to 39% A YouGov poll found a 10 point spread in her favor.
More importantly, many in the press, as well as others (I am among them) were horrified that Trump refused to say he would accept the verdict of voters on November 8. No other candidate has ever taken the outrageous position that “if I win, that’s legitimate but if I lose, the system must be rigged.” It is bad enough that Trump puts himself before party; now he is putting self before country.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton came in rested and prepared last night and, over time, took control of the stage. While Trump supporters still think she is a witch, my hunch is that many others are growing more comfortable with the notion that she will likely be our next President.
There are sure to be more surprising twists and turns in this campaign, but one thing now seems certain: after losing three straight debates, Trump has now exhausted his last big chance to reverse the momentum in his favor. Defeat seems near – and it is not because the system is rigged against him.
David Gergen is a senior political analyst for CNN and has been a White House adviser to four presidents. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a professor of public service and co-director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School. Follow him on Twitter: @david_gergen.
S.E. Cupp: Trump did better… but bar was low
To increase an engine’s power, you “take the governor off,” as we NASCAR fans say. Donald Trump has thus far run his campaign without a governor, much to the chagrin of the Republican Party and even his own surrogates and campaign staff. His outbursts in previous debates telegraphed to many he was not interested in being “shackled” by any traditional campaign conventions. As the election has progressed, that’s led to a narrowing of his appeal and his inability to crack a majority in national polls.
To continue the NASCAR theme, this final debate was the Talladega of debates, where Trump was racing with a restrictor plate and the governor back on.
Sure, there were moments where he was loose, barking back retorts to Hillary Clinton like, “wrong” and “not true.” But he was also loaded with ready comebacks, stats and the obvious attacks he often missed in previous debates in favor of tangential, off-topic ad hominem nonsense. Instead of going to the gutter, he repeatedly steered back to issues.
It was a performance that was, yes, riddled with inaccurate statements that fact-checkers will point out. He once again showed an alarming lack of facility with foreign policy, insisting Aleppo, the Syrian city that is under siege by Bashar al-Assad and Russian airstrikes, had fallen, and mixing up Sunni and Shiite loyalties in Mosul. He also insisted he never said he’d allow nation states like Saudi Arabia to nuclear arm, which is a lie. And he once again failed to repudiate the idea that the election has been “rigged,” setting an incredibly dangerous precedent that he might not accept the outcome of this election.
But it’s also a performance that many in Republican leadership may have wanted to see much earlier. The bar was low for Trump, so this only looked controlled in comparison to his previously maniacal performances, and with Clinton gaining insurmountable ground nationally and in battleground states, it’s too little, too late. But this was without question his best debate performance of the election.
S.E. Cupp is the author of “Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media’s Attack on Christianity,” co-author of “Why You’re Wrong About the Right” and a columnist at the New York Daily News
Errol Louis: With ‘nasty woman’ comment, Trump shows Clinton got under his skin
Hillary Clinton came into the final debate in a stronger political position than Donald Trump – and wisely chose not to play it safe. Instead, she jabbed at Trump continually, and predictably drew out the billionaire’s angry, caustic side.
Trump handled early questions well, sounding familiar notes on why he would nominate conservative judges to the Supreme Court. But Clinton kept needling him, pointing out that Trump projects were built with Chinese steel and undocumented immigrant labor.
And she more or less called Trump a “puppet” of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, leading her irritated opponent with little more to reply than, “No, you’re the puppet.”
Trump was at his best, as usual, on the economy, but was cornered on the issue of how his proposed plan would affect Medicare, Social Security and the national debt (the debate’s moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News, did an excellent job of showing how Clinton and Trump would both leave entitlements at risk and do little to slow growth of the debt).
“Such a nasty woman!” Trump complained toward the end of the debate, a marker of Clinton’s skill at getting under Trump’s skin – much in the way she did in the first debate.
The point was well taken. Clinton has averaged a 6.5-point lead over Trump in polls over the past week. That’s after a 5-point lead following the first debate. With fewer than three weeks to go, Trump is running out of time to catch up, and may have missed his last, best chance in the final debate.
Errol Louis is the host of “Inside City Hall,” a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel.
Brett Talley: Trump, a vote for the forgotten people
After two debates that could have been held in a mudhole, tonight was mostly about the issues. And boy, did we see some differences between these two candidates.
During this debate, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump told you exactly what they would do as President. If you support activist justices on the Supreme Court, if you support late-term abortion on demand, if you support open borders and amnesty, if you want a continuation of a foreign policy that has helped plunge the Middle East into war-torn chaos, if you want four more years of the past eight years, Hillary Clinton is your candidate.
If you want something different, if you want justices who adhere to the Constitution, laws that respect unborn life, a reformed immigration system and secure border, a military that puts American interests first, and a government that cares about the people in this country who have been forgotten for too long, then Donald Trump deserves your vote.
These two candidates are horribly flawed. Donald Trump has said some awful things. Hillary Clinton has committed acts that would have resulted in the prosecution of ordinary citizens. But this election isn’t just about the people on the stage; it’s about the future of the country and which direction we will go.
Brett J. Talley is a lawyer, author, one-time writer for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and former speechwriter for Sen. Rob Portman. He is deputy solicitor general at the office of Alabama’s attorney general.
Roxanne Jones: Clinton the only fit candidate on stage
We knew from the start when Donald Trump said he wanted to “make America great again,” it wasn’t completely true. He wasn’t talking to everyone — not women, not Muslims, or Mexicans, or the LGBTQ community, certainly not blacks or Latinos, or immigrants, or even poor folks.
Last night, Trump doubled down on his strategy to divide America and try to conquer the White House. He told us that if he loses he’s not sure he’ll accept the results, even for the good of the country. In his closing statement, a perfect opportunity to go out classy, he bashed Hillary Clinton, said—essentially– we should fear one another and that we should get rid of immigrants; he told blacks he was the only person who could save us and called for more law and order. Not one positive word about how he could move our country forward or improve the lives of every American.
Just for a minute in the beginning, Trump looked good. He had finally studied his notes. He showed more discipline than in the past –stayed focused on the questions. But then, he unraveled. He deflected questions about his lewd comments on groping women, told moderator Chris Wallace he wanted to talk about something else. I bet he did.
Trump stayed silent when Clinton told America that Trump and his company have not only used undocumented workers to build his projects but also shipped jobs out of the country at every turn. Trump’s response: change the laws so I won’t be able to do that. Say what? So now, it’s Clinton’s fault that Trump decided to send jobs overseas? Horrible.
Trump entered this race a brash political outsider. He had a chance to do something really powerful: re-create the Republican party, broaden the base to appeal to more Americans. And inspire us to cross party lines to work together and show the world America’s heart. But he blew it in one long winded, hate-filled campaign in which boasting, bashing women and just about everyone else took the place of informed policy discussions and common decency.
Hillary Clinton is not perfect — I’ve yet to see a politician who is — and she faces legitimate issues with trust among voters. But she was the only person on that stage fit to be President of the United States, the only candidate who can move America forward. The win goes to her.
Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN Magazine and former vice president at ESPN, has worked as a producer and as a reporter at the New York Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer. She was named a 2010 Woman of the Year by Women in Sports and Events, is a co-author of “Say It Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete,” and CEO of the Push Marketing Group.
Tim Stanley: Trump a sad, sore loser
Hillary Clinton won this most substantive debate, which was excellently moderated by Chris Wallace.
In theory, the focus on issues should’ve given Donald Trump a chance to shine. It did allow him to make some standard conservative points – and rather well. His pro-life position was uncompromising; his stance on gun control a clear contrast to Hillary Clinton. But he was also rambling, repetitive, failed to complete thoughts and – worst of all – allowed himself to get side-tracked by personal vendettas. If he is too thin skinned, however, it is because layers have been torn off by this process. The allegations of sex abuse, of fraud, or reliance on his father’s wealth are easily exploited by Clinton.
The biggest moment of the night was Trump’s refusal to accept his forthcoming defeat, casting doubt on the validity of the election. He referred, I suspect, to Pew’s 2012 research, which found that up to 1 in 8 voter registrations in the United States “are no longer valid or are significantly inaccurate.” But that doesn’t actually mean those registrations translate into votes, while Pew also said that nearly a quarter who should be able to vote currently cannot – so turnout may actually be depressed. Either way, Trump came off as a sore loser conceding the inevitable. A sad, pre-emptive end to a remarkable, charismatic candidacy.
Timothy Stanley is a historian and columnist for Britain’s Daily Telegraph. He is the author of “Citizen Hollywood: How the Collaboration Between L.A. and D.C. Revolutionized American Politics.”
Nayyera Haq: He can’t help himself
Candidates don’t change their personalities in the final debate. The goal is to use the third debate as an opportunity to add new voters to the team.
By sticking with the conservative Republican line on SCOTUS, 2nd amendment, abortion, and repealing Obamacare, Trump should have helped shore up his numbers in red states and make down-ballot Republican candidates feel more comfortable. For a broader set of voters, seeing a serious Trump able to have a policy based discussion for 45 minutes was a truly novel experience.
But Trump couldn’t hack it for the full debate. As we saw in the first debate, it is very easy to get under Trump’s skin. All it takes is questioning his business practices or ties to Russia and Trump simply cannot stay on the substantive side of the topic.
Trump derails his own gains by interrupting Hillary and making catty comments, and more tellingly, is not able to return to the more sober, statesmanlike demeanor people hope to see from a presidential candidate.
Instead, he doubles down on the personality traits that turn off voters generally and makes comments that disgust women and minorities in particular. Telling African-Americans he will make their lives better by instituting more law and order is the exact wrong message. And why take the final few minutes of the debate, the part that viewers are most likely to remember, to call the first female presidential candidate a “nasty woman”?
With 20 days left in the election, we all know who Trump is. He can fake being serious about the presidency for only a few minutes before resorting to the snarky comments that made him a reality star. It works for ratings, but it’s a losing strategy for getting votes.
Nayyera Haq is CEO of Avicenna Strategy, a cross-cultural communications firm. Previously a White House senior director and a State Department spokesperson during the Obama administration, she regularly comments on politics and current affairs for CNN. She is a Hillary Clinton supporter.
Raul Reyes: Trump, a wounded bear, flails in debate
Coming into the debate tonight from Las Vegas, Donald Trump was like a wounded bear, swinging and flailing in a last-chance effort to keep his candidacy alive. His dwindling poll numbers have set him on an increasingly erratic course; since the last debate, he has warned of a “rigged election,” suggested that a Mexican billionaire was behind the New York Times’ unflattering coverage of him, claimed that undocumented immigrants were committing voting fraud on a massive scale, and lashed out at the women who have accused him of unwanted sexual advances. He has even gone so far as to insinuate that Hillary Clinton was on drugs at the last debate.
If all this sounds like the strategy of an increasingly desperate candidate, that’s about right. Trump is going down, and he knows it. What this meant for Hillary Clinton is that for once, she had a low bar to clear in the debate: as long as she could stay cool and articulate her vision for the country, she would likely be judged the winner of Wednesday’s faceoff.
So did she manage to accomplish this goal? Yep. And the person that Clinton can thank for this, in part, is Trump himself.
Trump managed to maintain his composure for about 25 minutes into this debate. Then the gloves came off, in the worst ways. He interrupted Clinton, in a manner reminiscent of Alec Baldwin impersonating him on Saturday Night Live (“Wrong!”).
He threw out gratuitous personal insults, such as when he declared “such a nasty woman” while Clinton was discussing government entitlements. He sounded like a third-grader when he shot back her, “No, you’re the one who is unfit.” His sniffles made their reappearance. His discourse throughout the debate never rose above the most infantile level, such as when he called undocumented immigrants “bad hombres.” In so doing, over the course of an hour and a half Trump demonstrated to millions of Americans why he is unfit for office.
There was some serious discussion of substantive policy from Clinton, particularly on Iraq and Russia. But that was all overshadowed by Trump’s refusal to commit to accepting the result of the 2016 election. That’s it. It’s over. With this stunning statement, Trump disqualified himself from the presidency. When he told moderator Chris Wallace that he would “look into it at the time” – speaking about the election results – he showed why we do not need a reality TV star in the White House. We need a statesman – or let’s make that “stateswoman.” Hello, Madame President.
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today board of contributors. Follow him @RaulAReyes.
Buck Sexton: We’re trapped in crass reality show
The final presidential debate was as expected: nasty, brutish and not short enough. Trump won, though it was likely too close a call to affect the polls. While the policy substance was probably the strongest of all three candidate face offs, it was overshadowed by the plentiful personal attacks. Nothing new was learned about either candidate. It was a debate that was more instructive as a microcosm of a generally dispiriting election race than as a moment to change the minds of undecided American voters.
Perhaps the melee on stage was inevitable. We have reached the saturation point for mudslinging in this election. A public contest for who should be the next commander-in-chief shouldn’t feel like the most crass, ungallant reality TV show imaginable, yet here we are. No matter what the final outcome on November 8th, both major parties’ top-of-ticket candidates have largely deprived this country of a substantive public debate on policies that matter.
Instead, we have been privy to an all-out partisan media war, with unrepentant Hillary Clinton enablers on one side, and Donald-Trump-at-all-costs defenders on the others (though a vast majority of the chattering class clings to Madam Secretary’s side). This battle of propaganda machines will churn on, unmercifully, until election day, and whichever candidate ends up winning the White House, he or she will have been ethically sullied and politically hobbled along the way. The debate was merely reflective of these unfortunate realities.
Buck Sexton is a political commentator for CNN and host of “The Buck Sexton Show” on TheBlaze. He was previously a CIA counterterrorism analyst.
Frida Ghitis: Donald Trump is a frightening man
If you’re not frightened for America, you have not been paying attention. That was clear even in this final debate, in which Donald Trump managed to keep his cool for about the first 30 to 45 minutes, appearing to maintain control over his baser instincts. The effort to restrain himself proved too strenuous, and he finally dropped all pretense of discipline. We saw the real Trump, and it was a most unpleasant sight.
Nothing Trump does or says comes as a surprise any more. But we should not lose our ability to be shocked. The Republican candidate for the presidency refused to say he would accept the outcome of the election. America’s foes, the enemies of democracy around the world, must have rubbed their hands in glee.
One of the great achievements of humanity is the democratic tradition of peaceful transfer of power, the knowledge that after a hard-fought campaign the loser concedes. Trump may or may not accept that. Forget November 8th. What is he planning for November 9th?
How scary is Trump? Imagine he wins the election. The dark scenarios are endless. But fast-forward to four years later. Imagine that he wins the election. Imagine he runs for re-election and loses, and then refuses to give up power. Trump has the instincts of a dictator.
Some dictators are charming. Trump is not. He lied so many times it was amazing to watch. He claimed the accusations of women against him have been debunked. They have not. He rejected the judgment of US security agencies about Russian hacking in the US.
And then, near the end, in a most revolting moment, he interrupted Clinton to say, “She’s a nasty woman.”
Trump solidified his standing with his hardcore supporters, promoting what sounds more and more like a seditious movement, a movement to incite rebellion against the lawful government of the United States.
If Trump had maintained discipline, he might have scored some points. Instead, he reminded us what a frightening election this is, what a frightening man he is.
At the same time, he helped showcase the poise of his rival. Hillary Clinton looked, sounded, behaved, like the soon-to-be President of a great country.
Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review, and a former CNN producer and correspondent. Follow her @FridaGhitis.
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Sally Kohn: One candidate was presidential
The third and final debate was a microcosm of this entire election: Hillary Clinton was presidential and Donald Trump was petulant.
Hillary Clinton’s experience and expertise literally made Donald Trump sweat. She talked inspiringly about her vision for growing America’s economy from the middle-out and the bottom-up, as opposed to Trump’s top-down trickled down economics. And Clinton addressed complex foreign policy questions with the nuance and sophistication that they demand and that Trump plainly lacks.
Anyone who claims that Trump won is really just admitting that the bar is so terribly low for him at this point that as long as he only vomited incoherent word salads and not actual salad on the stage, he came out ahead.
And yet Trump, who has managed to lower all of our expectations in this election, went one step lower in refusing to say that he will honor the results of the presidential election if he is not the winner. This is dark, dangerous anti-democratic stuff. The sort of stuff that takes us down a road that history has proven to be ugly.
Then Trump called Clinton a “nasty woman.” Ugly in a different way, but still ugly.
I have got to hope that it is plain to anyone who stops to deeply think about it that Hillary Clinton is a knowledgeable and serious candidate and Donald Trump is throwing a national temper tantrum and is dangerously close to our nuclear codes.
Hillary Clinton was the only candidate on that stage with the skill and strength to be President of the United States of America. She has ideas. He has innuendo. She has solutions. He has the sniffles.
She won. He lost.
Hopefully this debate was also a preview of what to expect on November 8th.
Sally Kohn, a CNN political commentator, is an activist and columnist. Follow her on Twitter: @sallykohn. She supports Hillary Clinton for the presidency.
Haroon Moghul: America’s sacred values reduced to strategy
This third and final contest was Hillary Clinton’s best. Addressing Donald Trump’s record of misogyny, she spoke with a passion we do not hear from her often enough. Trump had his ultimate chance to show our country that he’s not who he appears to be. Unfortunately, what you see and what you hear is what you get.
Notably, American Muslims lost last night. Secretary Clinton called on our country to “work with American Muslims communities who are on the front lines.” This is the wrong response to Donald Trump’s discrimination. White Americans don’t deserve rights because, or whether, they speak out against white supremacism. And neither does anyone else.
American democracy lost, too.
Asked about the peaceful transition of power, Trump said he could not absolutely guarantee he’d accept the outcome of the vote on November 8th. He said, instead, he’d “keep [us] in suspense.” Later, Clinton compared Trump’s attacks on the democratic process to his conviction that the Emmys were rigged.
Our most sacred values reduced to a crass, tacky negotiating strategy. What was Trump trying to say, anyway? Was he telegraphing an intention of insurrection? That’s one bad hombre.
The planet lost, too. In three debates, we haven’t had a single question on climate change. ISIS is a bigger national security threat than the warming of the entire planet? To quote Donald Trump, who did a great Alec Baldwin impression tonight: “wrong.”
Haroon Moghul is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Policy. His next book, “How to be a Muslim,” will be out in 2017.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat: Is democracy really up for debate?
In this final debate, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump graduated from the school he’s been attending: it’s the same school attended by Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, and other strongmen up through Vladimir Putin. When asked point blank if he’d accept the results of the presidential election, he refused to commit, saying he’d look at the issue when the time came – as though he were talking about changing the plumbing in a building he wants to buy, and not the most fundamental moment of our democratic process.
Tonight Trump went further in this direction than ever before, declaring that this election is not only rigged but invalid in its origins, since his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton should never have been allowed to run. Everything else Trump said tonight pales beside this assertion.
We’ve all been waiting for this election to be over, but tonight made clear that November 8th may just be the start of our problems.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat is a professor of history and Italian studies at New York University. Her latest book is “Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema.”
Lanhee Chen: The biggest losers
We, the people, were the big losers in tonight’s debate. Both candidates had the opportunity to address serious problems with real solutions, but all we heard were platitudes and unrealistic plans.
Hillary Clinton reminded us that she believes government is the only answer to lagging economic growth. Donald Trump went back to his familiar anti-trade, anti-entitlement reform rhetoric. And neither candidate presented a truly realistic approach to creating jobs, fixing broken entitlement programs, or addressing the national debt.
It’s remarkable that we’re at this very late stage of the 2016 presidential campaign – just under three weeks from Election Day – and there remain so many question marks about the policy proposals of both major-party candidates for the presidency.
Tonight’s debate, while substantive in parts, did little to provide comfort to an independent voter looking for a president who is willing to cross party lines to get things done or pursue commonsense reforms across a broad range of domestic policy areas.
For Hillary Clinton, it was a missed opportunity to “seal the deal” with these voters. And for Donald Trump, it was even worse – it was a failed attempt to speak to those voters whose support he needs to have any pathway to the presidency. Indeed, both candidates spoke directly to their bases of support and had little rhetoric or policy that would be more broadly appealing.
But, then again, none of this may matter at all since Donald Trump refused to say that he would accept the results of the election in three weeks. That’s sure to be the headline coming out of this debate, and for good reason.
Tim Naftali: Trump’s disrespect for America
His eyes were full of hate tonight. This, the third debate in the presidential series, was the most frightening. Whereas Donald Trump had generally limited his contempt to Hillary Clinton in the previous encounters, tonight he sprayed it at all of us.
Unwilling to bow to any of the small civilities that have made US politics since the Civil War contentious without being violent, Trump showed himself to have the authoritarian core predicted by his fiercest critics. When asked if he would accept the verdict of the voters on November 8, he didn’t answer; instead he taunted Chris Wallace and the country by giving the impression that he hadn’t yet decided. “L’Etat, C’est Moi.”
We saw glimpses of this in Cleveland when he vowed in his acceptance speech to be the man who could fix any problem. At least in Cleveland he gave facts and figures to give us the sense that he believed he needed to earn the presidency. Tonight there were no facts, just assertion after weird assertion. Apparently there are millions of fraudulent voters; apparently many people in the inner circles get shot going for groceries or that NAFTA is the worst trade deal in human history.
In its most idealized form, political speech is an effort at persuasion– and even in its mundane form, it respects the fact that our democracy is founded on the principle of Consent of the Governed. Instead Trump just proclaimed. And tonight much of what he said was nonsense. Trump may know where Aleppo is but he doesn’t know what it means, nor who or what is responsible for that human catastrophe.
He doesn’t understand the reason for attacking Mosul or for letting civilians and even some ISIS fighters leave that city before the violence starts. When Trump saw something in the outside world that he agreed with—the claim that apparently some US allies are making noises about bearing more of the burden of their defense– he naturally and absurdly took credit. The picture was no prettier on the home front, where he rhetorically slashed and burned his way through the last 30 years of bipartisan administrations. Trump’s virtual Mount Rushmore clearly has only one bust, his own.
Hillary Clinton was also at this debate. She jousted and drew blood when Trump incautiously opened the door to comparisons between the candidates’ family foundations or when he praised Bernie Sanders, a man who publicly despises him. But at her most effective tonight, she merely stood up to Trump and allowed Americans to see–and draw their own comparisons. It was those eyes of his. He must know he is losing.
Tim Naftali, a CNN presidential historian and clinical associate professor of history and public service at New York University, is writing a new biography of President John F. Kennedy.
Tara Setmayer: Two steps forward, 10 steps back
Donald Trump simply cannot help himself. He continues to take two steps forward and 10 steps back. Trump was initially more measured and somewhat better prepared for the final debate. His attacks against Hillary Clinton’s policies on immigration, the economy and the shady dealings of the Clinton Foundation were his best moments.
However, Hillary Clinton was able to dodge many of the toughest criticisms and use the opportunities to train her fire on Trump’s long list of shortcomings. Clinton articulated her counter arguments more effectively than Trump, running circles around him on more than one occasion. For example, when Trump questioned Clinton about what has she done in her 30 years of public service, Hillary fired off her list of accomplishments and concluded with a zinger: “when I was in the Situation Room monitoring the raid that brought Osama bin Laden to justice, he was hosting the Celebrity Apprentice.”
Even though Clinton had no good answers for her email scandal or the damaging Wikileaks revelations, Trump was unable to capitalize. Instead, he still refused to repudiate Russian dictator Vladamir Putin and Russia’s role in cyber espionage, he doubled down on his attacks against his accusers and showed no contrition for his mistreatment of women (a voting block he’s tanking with and needs if he has any chance of winning) and most damagingly, would not commit to accepting the results on election night if he lost. Trump actually said “I’ll keep you in suspense.” Not only is this astonishing. It’s reckless and un-American. The peaceful transfer of power is not a reality show cliffhanger. It’s been a hallmark of our American democracy since the raucous election of Thomas Jefferson in 1800.
Trump once again demonstrated why he is incapable of handling the rigors and responsibilities of the presidency. Hillary wins.
Tara Setmayer is former communications director for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-California, and a CNN political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @tarasetmayer.
Jeff Yang: Trump and what he represents must be soundly rejected
There’s no point in going through the specific beats, themes and responses in this final presidential debate of 2016. The actual answers provided by the candidates to Chris Wallace’s admirably measured questions were so overshadowed by Trump’s blatant refusal to guarantee that he would abide by the simple rules of our democracy that they are irrelevant to the decision voters face in a few short weeks.
Any patchy veneer Trump might still have of his being a legitimate candidate running a legitimate campaign were erased when he announced that he would keep America “in suspense” over whether he would, in Wallace’s words, support a “peaceful transfer of power” if the election did not go his way.
Combine that statement with his frequent intimations of Second Amendment “solutions,” his tacit embrace of the extreme alt-right and his declaration from the very stage that his opponent was a “criminal” who should’ve been “prevented from running for office,” and the foul brew that Trump is fermenting has a familiar odor: It smells of beer halls in November.
There is no longer a subtle way to say this: Trump and what he represents must be soundly rejected, wholly repudiated and fully dispelled from our body politic, by a popular and electoral number that can’t be questioned. Any other outcome risks a rupture in the fabric of our republic.
Jeff Yang is a columnist for The Wall Street Journal and a frequent contributor to radio shows including Public Radio International’s “The Takeaway” and WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show.” He is the co-author of “I Am Jackie Chan: My Life in Action” and editor of the graphic novel anthologies “Secret Identities” and “Shattered.”