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That puts a bow on the third presidential debate and on the 2016 debates generally. As usual, you can re-experience the final debate’s splendor by starting at the bottom of this live blog and scrolling up. You can also listen to our post-debate Elections podcast, or watch video of the taping below.
I also asked our staff to play our traditional fill-in-the-blank end-of-debate game: “Tomorrow’s main post-debate headline will be about __________.”
Harry: Trump won’t say he will respect the result of the election as legitimate.
Clare: The undermining of democratic processes by a major party candidate on national television.
Nate: Apart from (not) respecting the election results: That Trump couldn’t really hold it together enough to give himself a chance, despite some stronger moments here and there.
Carl: Trump on whether he’ll commit to conceding if he loses: “What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense, OK?”
Seth: Trump’s refusal to say he’ll accept the outcome of the election.
Maggie: We are all in suspense now. Citizens. Journalists. And even the ghosts of dead generals.
Julia: The failure to commit to whether he’ll accept the election results or not.
I’ve been watching CNN, and the commentators have been going back and forth between talking about how Trump said he wouldn’t necessarily concede and how he gave up an opportunity to talk about Bill Clinton’s accusers.
Debate No. 3 hit on most of the major scandals of this election:
Trump sexual assault allegations
The Khan family
National Review editor Rich Lowry just tweeted that Clinton “never made a major mistake” in the three debates. I think this is correct — she managed not to have any moments along the lines of “you didn’t build that” or “basket of deplorables.” She’s not noted as a particularly brilliant or moving communicator, but it seems like people on both sides agree that she’s been competent and clear. This is a change after the charisma of her husband, the soaring rhetoric of candidate Obama, and the folksy charm of George W. Bush. Whether that matters, I guess, remains to be seen.
Students are filing out of the UNLV debate party. On the way in, the campus grounds were filled with colorful characters wearing their opinions on their sleeves or, in this case, on their chests. I heard supporters of various candidates arguing with each other — sometimes respectfully, other times using profanity-laced streams of insults. Tonight’s debate is unlikely to change the minds of hardcore supporters, and it’s not clear yet whether it can sway even the undecided.
At the start of the night, I said I hoped tonight’s discussion would focus more on policy than the first two debates. I wasn’t too optimistic. But while there were certainly plenty of interruptions, non sequiturs and ad hominem attacks, tonight really did end up featuring a lot of substantive discussion. The discussions of taxes, the economy and foreign policy were pretty familiar by now, but we also got some exchanges on issues that had been ignored in the previous debates, such as immigration and abortion.
So it looks like this was Trump’s most interjecty debate yet. Might be worth revisiting our story about why we separately count interruptions and interjections and how even social scientists have a hard time defining what an interruption is.
As the debate ends, we’re seeing supporters of the candidates greet them in the hall. Perhaps not surprisingly, Trump invited Sarah Palin to the debate. I think that fact, more than anything, speaks to Trump’s inability or unwillingness to play to the center. He’d rather have the support of someone who just 13 percent of Americans said would make them more likely to vote for Trump if she were the vice presidential nominee, compared to 42 percent who said it would make them less likely to vote for a Trump ticket.
So I’m off to be a guest on the “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” — watch me at about 11:30 Eastern time tonight! But a very quick thought or two. If it weren’t for “such a nasty woman” and Trump refusing to commit to respecting the election results, maybe you could call it a draw. I don’t think so, because I thought Clinton was more consistent from start to finish. But maybe? I’m reluctant to conclude very much until I see how voters react.
But the thing is, even a draw would be a bad outcome for Trump, who is 7 points behind Clinton and has few remaining opportunities to catch up. I don’t know that Trump is necessarily going to fall further in the polls, because he’s fallen pretty far already and he gave his 35 percent base some things to be energized about tonight.
But this wasn’t the performance he needed. And “such a nasty woman” and electoral integrity are, at a minimum, going to be major news stories for the next few days, and not ones that will redound to Trump’s benefit. He’s running out of ways to win this election, apart from a major polling error.
It’s pretty much a cliché at this point, but Clinton’s style is clearly to prepare and Trump’s is clearly to go with his gut. She was able to convert every comment he made into an attack on an area of weakness for him. I don’t know that Trump would be doing better in this election if he’d prepped more for the debates or if he was even prep-able. But like many other aspects of this campaign — including ground game, fundraising and advertising — Clinton took it seriously and Trump didn’t.
Trump’s response to a question about taxes and entitlements was, “I would repeal Obamacare.” It’s not news that candidates don’t always answer the questions, and Clinton has infamously dodged questions about emails and transparency. But adding in material that wasn’t directly relevant to the question is a sneaky rhetorical tactic — it interrupts the logical flow of the question and answer. This doesn’t invite listeners in to follow his thought process — it shuts them out.
Trump said of Clinton’s and fellow Democratic candidates’ relationships with black and Latino voters: “They get the vote and then they come back. They say, ‘We’ll see you in four years.'” He has a point about black voters: My colleague Farai Chideya has pointed out that, historically speaking, black voters have been so loyal to Democratic candidates that the politicians who get black voters’ support haven’t had to take African-Americans’ concerns into account once in office.
Trump used his closing statement to talk about violence in inner cities and how it affects African-Americans. It’s true that homicide is up in many cities and that African-Americans are disproportionately the victims of gun violence. But as Simone Sebastian wrote in The Washington Post after the last debate, Trump’s use of “inner city” as a synonym for “black” is badly outdated. More African-Americans now live in the suburbs than in the city.
This debate is over. As I wrote before the debate, it’s unlikely that this debate will change the current polls. That means that Clinton will continue to be a heavy favorite to win the presidency.
Voices of Nevada Voters: Mike Maxwell, 47, technology consultant
Former Bernie Sanders supporters Mike Maxwell said that he’s “not a massive fan” of Clinton but believes “she will be capable.” Maxwell moved here two years ago from Colorado. He describes Nevada voters as conservative-leaning but mainly independent opportunity-seekers. “People see Vegas as a place where things can happen,” he said. “Hard work is a big value.”
Maxwell called tonight’s debate a “waste of time and energy and even money.” He believes that nearly all voters have made up their mind.
Trump objects to Wallace’s question implying that his plan would add to the debt. But pretty much all independent experts say Wallace is right and Trump is wrong. Even if you accept the analysis of the Tax Foundation, a conservative group, Trump’s plan would add trillions to the debt over the next decade.
The issue of health care gives you an idea of how weak Trump’s campaign has been. Although more Americans than not dislike Obamacare, the majority of Americans trust Clinton over Trump on health care. A stronger Republican candidate might have been able to take advantage of most Americans’ negative view of Obamacare, but Trump couldn’t.
Health insurance premiums are going up this year (though by how much really varies depending on where you live), and a lot of insurers have exited the insurance marketplaces created by Obamacare, leaving people with fewer options in many places. It’s going to be hard to get the 13.8 million people signed up that the federal Department of Health and Human Services says it is expecting. But this is the first year that the full effect of the individual mandate will be in place, with individuals looking at fines of $695 or 2.5 percent of their income (whichever is higher) if they don’t have insurance. This article from CNBC gets at some of the complexity of who paid how much last year and what to expect in 2017.
Clinton not only vows to protect Social Security, she also hopes to expand it to widows and those who take time off from work to care for for a family member. Just one step beyond expanding Social Security is to guarantee an income to all Americans. That’s called a universal basic income — everyone, rich or poor, working or unemployed, gets the same amount of money. It’s a popular policy idea that’s being tested in several countries.
“Such a nasty woman” is a thing that Trump just said about Clinton on the debate stage.
The real winner from these debates may be the Committee for a Responsible Budget, which has been mentioned both tonight and in the vice presidential debate. As Andrew said, the debt didn’t get much attention during the primary, but the group has clearly gotten the attention of the journalists writing debate questions.
Trump’s stance on entitlements is unusual for a GOP nominee. “Let’s protect our Social Security and Medicare,” Trump has said. He is opposed to raising the Social Security retirement age; he has also said he would “save” Social Security “without cuts.” That’s a rhetorical change from what recent GOP nominees like Mitt Romney and John McCain have proposed; theirs focused on the looming depletion of the trust fund. Most importantly, Trump’s views on entitlements are a 180-degree turn from the plans put forth by House Speaker Paul Ryan.
“Social Security is going bankrupt” is a common talking point. But is it true? The benefits of those who currently get Social Security are funded by the payroll taxes of those who are currently working; any excess money is funneled into a trust fund, which pays out when promised benefits outstrip revenues. As the U.S. economy undergoes major demographic changes — namely the retirement of the baby boomers — the trust fund has been paying out more than it takes in. It’s projected to be depleted in 18 years (or by 2034), according to the 2016 Social Security Trustees report.
That sounds dire. But all is not lost! There are modest fixes that could restore the trust fund, like raising the amount of income subject to payroll taxes (a Democratic favorite) or raising the retirement age (what Republicans prefer). Either way, Social Security is fixable. But that’s not to say nothing must be done.
We’re recording a wrap-up FiveThirtyEight Elections podcast soon after the debate ends. We’ll live-stream video right here on this site and on our Facebook page. So what should we discuss? What’s your main headline from tonight and question about tomorrow? Tweet me. (And while I have you, think about subscribing to the Elections podcast, OK?)
To call the national debt a “problem,” as Chris Wallace just did, is to editorialize. Running a national debt is not an inherently bad or undesirable thing. To take up precious debate time demanding that the candidates solve a problem that isn’t actually a problem is a waste.