I’m studiously avoiding reading the pundits this morning—trying to sort out my own impressions of last night’s debate between the salesman and the statesman. Because in the end, that is the choice it all seemed to boil down to. It was a reprise of the first two debates with one exception. In the opening segment Trump actually gave the impression he might attempt to more seriously answer the questions asked. But a short attention span and a thin skin soon got the better of him and he went back to who he is: a super salesman. He glowers, interrupts, interjects, calls Hillary names and blames her for every bad thing that happened over the past thirty years (“she is all talk, no action”), blithely ignoring the fact that she was never the one in charge.
The big surprise (or maybe not, depending on how you view Trump) was that he refused twice to say that he would abide by the results of the election, Pence be damned. He clung to his “rigged election” theme and generally acted like a petulant schoolyard bully who might for once be held accountable for his words and deeds. Another, less surprising, is that he made it clearer that his Supreme Court justices would leave implementing Roe v. Wade to the states , overturning it de facto rather than de jure.
Otherwise, the charges both made didn’t stray far from their usual talking points. Hillary communicated her positions well in an attempt to keep the focus on facts and substance. Trump spoke in his usual bombast: everything is a ‘disaster,’ our leaders are ‘stupid,’ essentially everyone in the world is playing America for chumps thanks to Hillary, Obama and the ‘hacks’ who negotiate our trade deals, so we need Trump to drive those hard bargains and, well, make us great. As always, there was no indication of how the policies he says he has in his kit bag that would achieve this, and he ducked when asked to respond to studies that show that his numbers don’t add up and would blow a $20 trillion hole in the budget.
Hillary “won” this debate, for what it’s worth. My beef was that she kept too much to her talking points and didn’t point out, e.g., Trump’s ignorance about the origins of ISIS and the way forward in Syria or knock down his ridiculous claim that there were 100 million fraudulent votes out there. She handled the issue of the national debt well, debunking the hoary Republican notion that cutting taxes for the rich would grow the economy, but not correcting Trump when he cut GDP growth by more than half (it’s about 2.5%, not 1%). Trump called her a liar and a ‘nasty woman,’ and Hillary got in a few good licks herself, calling him Putin’s ‘puppet.’
Their respective positions on everything from foreign policy to border security to the economy to the Supreme Court are by now well known, and by the time those 90 minutes elapsed both candidates had underscored those positions. Trump is fighting to keep his supporters loyal and hoping to discourage Sanders Democrats and maybe some undecideds (if there are any left) from going to the polls; Hillary clearly aiming beyond her base to corral the independents, and especially women, and get them out to vote for her. Of course, voting is already underway in a number of states, so I think the best they can do is nibble at the margins. The die is cast – where the hell is the Rubicon?