4 Highlights from the Third Presidential Debate
The third and final debate in Las Vegas, Nevada began with a notably different tone compared to previous debates. Chris Wallace, the moderator, guided the candidates through the predetermined categories to address a few of the substantive issues that have gotten little attention throughout much of the election season. But the formality that we saw in the beginning quickly subsided as the questions turned to the legitimacy of the elections and the candidates’ past records.
Here’s a quick rundown of the highlights:
The Show Started Before the Candidates Took the Stage
The circus surrounding the debate got started well before 9 PM on Wednesday when news about debate guests started circulating. Trump’s guests included Malik Obama, President Obama’s half-brother and a Trump supporter, as well as Patricia Smith, the mother of Sean Smith, who was killed in the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya. In light of Trump’s similar efforts to shake up the second debate, the Clinton campaign moved to make sure guests and families did not cross paths when entering the stage, which was approved by the debate commission.
But while talk of guests took up much of the attention going into Wednesday’s event, they appeared to have little effect on what happened on stage. While most expected Smith’s attendance to force the issue on Clinton’s response to the Benghazi attack, the topic hardly came up.
Trump Doesn’t Commit to Respecting the Election Outcome
When asked about his recent rhetoric and unsubstantiated claims that the election is “rigged,” Trump continued criticism of incomplete voter registration data, going so far as to indicate that the election may be mishandled. But when Chris Wallace followed up and asked if he would accept the outcome of the election, Trump refused to say yes, responding with “I will look at it at the time.” He later added, “I will keep you in suspense.”
This is a significant reversal from his response to the same question at the first debate and was probably the most striking moment at the entire debate. His response was also striking in light of his statements at the second debate, when he promised to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton and indicated that she belonged in prison. Both of these comments amount to a significant departure from established democratic norms to promote the peaceful transition of power and the nonpartisan rule of law.
Rukmini Callimachi, a New York Times foreign correspondent, has heard that notion before:
8. Trump refuses to say he’ll accept results of election. “I’ll tell you at the time.” (I heard that a lot covering African elections)
— Rukmini Callimachi (@rcallimachi) October 20, 2016
Striking Disagreement on the Economy
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are running on vastly different economic platforms and some of those differences made their way to the forefront in Wednesday’s debate. Trump’s plan to cut taxes, particularly for the highest earning Americans, stood in striking contrast to Clinton’s plan, which would modestly raise taxes for those at the very top. Clinton highlighted her plan to use those new revenues to invest in infrastructure and working families while Trump claimed that his massive tax cuts would unleash unprecedented economic growth. He later dodged questions on his plan’s consequences for the deficit and the national debt, claiming that they wouldn’t matter with all the new jobs he plans to create.
Still No Questions on Climate Change
For the final point here, I’ll highlight something that was missing from tonight’s debate, as well as the two that preceded it. Climate change is an issue that the Democratic Party and nearly all governing parties throughout the rest of the world have agreed is one of the most significant problems facing the world. But in an election to determine the next president of the United States, and arguably one of the most influential people in global climate policy in the next decade, barely any time was devoted to discussing it. President Obama has said of climate change, “No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change,” but if you are a voter worrying about how the candidates plan to address it, you were left waiting.