The final presidential debate was held on Wednesday at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. It was hosted by Chris Wallace of Fox News, who received a lot of praise afterwards for his handling of the debate. It began as the second one had, without a handshake. It was divided up into several segments, each beginning with two minutes for each candidate and then ten minutes of general discussion.
The first segment covered the Supreme Court. Both candidates seemed support the idea of the Court being a tool for advancing a particular type of public policy. Clinton opened with how she wanted the Supreme Court to “stand on the side of the American people, not on the side of the powerful, corporations and the wealthy.” Trump talked about the importance of nominating pro-life judges who “have a conservative bent.”
He also stressed the need to protect the Second Amendment. The candidates discussed two issues in particular: guns and abortion. Clinton stressed the need for some gun control measures but stressed that she supports the Second Amendment. Her discussion of District of Columbia v. Heller was criticized after the debate in conservative media for mischaracterizing the decision.
Specifically, she claimed that the decision was about protecting toddlers, but the decision and the legislation it struck down were much broader in scope. The case was about whether or not the District of Columbia could essentially ban the ownership of handguns for self defense.
The next topic was immigration. Trump discussed the need for strong border security. He repeated his false claim that ICE endorsed him; it was actually a union of some border patrol agents that endorsed him. It was also during this segment that Trump said America has some “bad hombres,” for which he received some criticism for being racially insensitive.
Clinton opposed Trump’s policies for being too harsh and for separating families. She announced that she would propose comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship within the first hundred days of her administration.
The immigration topic became a debate on America-Russia relations after Wallace cited a a WikiLeaks story in order to question Clinton on “open borders.” Clinton brought up WikiLeaks being an arm of the Russian state and challenged Trump for being too friendly with Putin. Trump said he condemns any attempt by a foreign power to interfere in the American election, but he continued to say it would be desirable to have a good relationship with Russia.
The third topic was the economy. The exchange was fairly typical of what one would expect from a debate between Republican and Democratic presidential candidates. Clinton criticized Trump for having tax breaks that she thought were too large and too helpful for the wealthy. Trump criticized Clinton as a continuation of the Obama presidency which has seen relatively low economic growth.
Trump also discussed free trade, saying he was for it but wanted to renegotiate current trade deals (or leave them entirely if he could not renegotiate).
Clinton also took a slightly protectionist bent, affirming her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and complaining about dumping of raw materials by other countries.
The fourth topic was on fitness to be president. The questioning started with Trump’s alleged groping of women and Bill Clinton’s treatment of women. Trump incorrectly stated that his accusers have been debunked. He also said that he did not apologize to his wife for allegedly groping women because the allegations are false. Some people on Twitter took this line and contrasted it with an interview with Melania Trump in which she said he apologized. However, her statement was in relation to the lewd tape, while his statement was about accusations themselves.
Trump said that he believed the women were accusing him either for fame or as a part of Clinton’s campaign. When Clinton brought up Trump’s implication that he would not have committed sexual assault because the accusers are unattractive, Trump incorrectly claimed that he did not make that implication.
Trump then brought up Clinton’s emails. Chris Wallace also brought up allegations of misconduct by the Clinton Foundation. However, what generated the most headlines from this segment, and the debate as a whole, was Trump’s contention that he would not necessarily concede the results of the election if he loses.
Specifically, he said he’d “look at it at the time.” He was widely criticized in the media for undermining the democratic legitimacy of our system. Trump and his campaign have since walked back the statement to a limited degree.
The fifth topic was about foreign policy. In particular, it focused on Iraq and Syria. Trump criticized Clinton for what he sees as leaving Iraq too early and allowing it to become a haven for ISIS.
Clinton pressed Trump on his claim that he was against the Iraq War before it started. Wallace also asked Clinton about imposing a no-fly zone in Syria and risk hostilities with Russia. She responded by saying that the no-fly zone would not take effect immediately and would have to follow negotiations.
The sixth and final topic was the national debt. Wallace cited the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget in stating that under Clinton the debt would rise to 86 percent of GDP over the next ten years, while Trump’s plan would raise it to 105 percent. The current debt to GDP ratio is 77 percent. Both Trump and Clinton disputed those findings.
Trump said he would grow the economy enough to cover the debt while Clinton simply claimed that her plan does balance, contrary to the numbers cited.Wallace also asked about how they would pay for entitlements.
Trump went back to how he would grow the economy, while Clinton brought up taxing the wealthy more. It was also during this segment that Trump labelled Clinton as “a nasty woman,” which has attracted significant criticism.