Third and Final Debate (yea!)

Rich Galen
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Posted: Oct 20, 2016 9:14 AM
Third and Final Debate (yea!)

The best thing about last night's debate being THE THIRD AND FINAL DEBATE is that it means this interminable campaign cycle is finally drawing to a close.

You've seen the same polling that I have: Since Donald Trump spent nearly a full week pounding his position that a Miss Universe contestant had gained a lot of weight, his numbers have been tanking. The Access Hollywood tape and his denial of any wrongdoing during the second debate certainly hurt, as well.

Has the press piled on Trump? Absolutely. It is a lot easier to write about sex than about what Hillary Clinton did or didn't say during which FBI interview.

First of all, it is easier to write a blub about Trump wandering into the changing room at a pageant than to plow through hundreds and hundreds of pages of FBI notes.

Were it not for the salacious nature of the on-going Trump story, it would be Clinton and her surrogates being forced to defend her lapses in judgement and/or memory when it came to handling classified information.

But, the Trump story is salacious and his increasingly clumsy attempts to change the focus (the election is rigged, Clinton should be required to take a drug test, etc.) have not caused the press corps to change its coverage.

Remember, during the primary campaign, Trump was the darling of the press corps. He constantly called into Sunday shows and cable chat shows. Print reporters would have stood in line, in the snows of New Hampshire to get just a quote from Donald Trump.

So, he who lives by the Main Stream Press ?

That was the backdrop to the debate last night. Donald Trump may not have needed a knock-out punch, but he needed to send Clinton to the canvas enough times to win a unanimous decision.

For Hillary Clinton, she's been off the campaign trail almost entirely since the last debate.

She has to show - for once and for all - that she has the temperament and judgement to be President of the United States.

The Debate

The Trump campaign made certain the chattering class knew he had taken a more traditional approach to preparing for this debate. Without parsing every answer by each candidate, at least for the first 20-or-so minutes, it appeared to have worked.

On the immigration program, each candidate appealed to the base. Trump: No amnesty. Build a wall. Illegal immigrants are killing Americans. Clinton: Won't tear families apart, need comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.

Moderator Chris Wallace brought up Wikileaks in terms of a leaked speech about "open borders" in the Western Hemisphere. Wallace pointed out she made $225,000 for the speech, but Clinton obviously prepared well, too. She pivoted to Russian interference in the U.S. process by hacking emails and giving the results to Wikileaks.

They both lost their tempers. Trump went right after Clinton's strongest personality trait: She's tough enough to deal with foreign leaders like Putin. He said "Putin has outsmarted her (and Obama) at every turn." That appeared to get under Clinton's skin. Hillary went after Trump on wanting to renegotiate bi-lateral and regional defense agreements.

On the economy, Clinton fired off about three minutes of specifics on jobs, taxes, and eduction.

Trump, in response, went back to foreign policy to again explain what he meant by renegotiating the defense treaties. He then went after NAFTA in response.

Trump complained about how badly the economy is going especially shipping jobs overseas.

Clinton listed many of the foreign places Trump either has goods made or has used foreign steel.

On experience, Clinton listed her record of public service. Trump countered with having built "a tremendous company."

The "groping" segment didn't come until nearly 50 minutes into the debate. Trump said he didn't know any of the women who have come forward and blamed the Clinton campaign. Clinton rebutted by recounting what Trump has said on the stump in his own defense about the women not being attractive enough and so on.

Clinton's response may have been her best 90 seconds of the entire campaign.

Trump responded by pivoting to the 33,000 emails. Not a bad approach, but didn't do anything to counter her appeal to women.

The discussion turned to the Clinton Foundation. Hillary Clinton, of course, defended it but Trump had a great response asking her why the foundation takes money from governments like the Saudis and Qatar who treat women and gays horribly.

In answer to a direct question about accepting the result of the election - which Gov. Pence has agreed to do - Trump said "I'll look at it at the time."

Clinton turned on him and called that answer "appalling."

At 10:18, the Trump melt-down occurred. Out of nowhere, Trump said that John Podesta said really bad things about you "and he was right." It was out of context, ugly, and I think women may see it as another attempt by Trump to intimidate a woman.

During the final segment, Clinton said she would raise Social Security taxes on the rich "unless Donald can find a way to get out of it." Trump leaned into his microphone and said, "She's such a nasty woman."

I could hear the groans from the Trump staff room at UNLV from three time zones away. Chris Wallace gave each candidate 60 seconds to tell Americans why they should be President.

If Hillary Clinton hadn't practiced that speech, she gets my vote as a great closing speech maker.

Donald Trump ended with a recitation of what's wrong with America.

Conclusion: If I am correct about what Trump needed to do, he failed. Being better is not good enough at this late stage of the campaign.