Thursday, October 20, 2016

My reaction to the third and final presidential debate!

A screenshot from the third debate. 

The entire debate.

The final presidential debate is in the books and here's my reaction post. Before I go on, I have to say this is a bittersweet moment for me. I have had a lot of fun watching these debates since last year and I really enjoyed writing up these posts. It's going to be a long time until I get to do this again, but in the meantime, a big thank you to everyone who has taken their time to read these. It's been a crazy ride... 

This was probably the most substantive debate that we have had this election series. At the very least, out of the three presidential debates, this is the one that focused the most on policy. As such, your impression of it will be much more dependent on how much you like the policy the candidates sold. Since I like Trump's policy way more then Clinton's it was a good night for me. 

Moderation was much better. For the first time we had a fair moderator. Chris Wallace was very tough on Trump, but he also hit Hillary Clinton pretty hard as well. It wasn't a 2-1 slugfest like the last few debates, and Wallace actually seemed to take his job seriously. I don't think there was much in the way of bias at all in this debate, which is almost unbelievable to me. That's how bad the moderation of these debates have been so far this election. Just appearing to be fair puts you head and shoulders above everyone else. 

I also have to say that Wallace asked some very good questions. Not only was he tough on Clinton where other moderators have held back, he actually covered some policy questions that were sorely lacking. It's almost criminal that gun rights, immigration and abortion didn't come up until the 11th hour. Given how massively important those issues are to millions of Americans, it was very good that they came up and Wallace deserves a lot of the credit for that.

I am rather disgusted at one part of the debate though. The media is going absolutely insane because Trump said that he would withhold conceding the election until election day. That's completely stupid because what candidate wouldn't consider contesting an election where it was close or fraud was suspected? Al Gore did the same thing in 2000 and I guarantee if there had been an undercover tape where GOP Super PAC's were openly discussing voter fraud, the media would be clamoring to contest the election.

Indeed, it really sounded like Hillary Clinton was laying the groundwork for that anyways. When challenged about her e-mail server, she pivoted to Russia and directly claimed that the country was deliberately interfering with our election by "hacking" her. And the media has been talking about how Russia could hack our electronic voting machines (which is reason enough that those machines should never be used). But, critically, the question was never asked of her.

My question is that if people really are pissed about the idea that Trump could contest the election if he thinks there was voter fraud, can't Clinton do the same thing if there is evidence of Russian interference?  If she can, why is it bad that Trump is suggesting it? Hell, I am guessing that both scenarios can and will play out this election, I have almost zero faith that it will go smoothly. It just seems to me to be another phony outrage due to people's double standards. I think if it is good for the goose then it is good for the gander. Trump was right to say he would reserve judgement, and if Clinton had said the same thing, I would defend her as well. 

It's very unfortunate that this is the main media takeaway because this was a great debate for policy. Trump really stepped his game up and Clinton has always been good at explaining her plans, even if I disagree with them. This should have been the debate that people made up their minds on who had the better ideas for the country, but those that missed the debate will only hear the hysteria coming from the mainstream media right now. 

As always I will go through both candidates performance. I started with Donald Trump last time, so this time I will start with Hillary Clinton. Before I continue though, I do think that Trump won the debate. It wasn't as good as a performance as the 2nd debate, he had a couple of major unforced errors, his statement about the integrity of the election being one of them, but Clinton made some critical mistakes which were far more damaging in my mind.  

Hillary Clinton:
Not a good night for Hillary at all. She got roughed up by Trump and was seriously questioned on some of her scandals. But she did have some good moments as well. Her defense of abortion will probably fire up her base. It's pretty clear from tonight that she thinks that abortion is a good thing and that there is a clear contrast between her and Trump on the issues. It's not an issue I care about at all, but I think her defense of it will help motivate her base, even as she probably motivated the pro-life people opposed to her. 

I think Clinton may have scored some points when she was criticizing Trump on the groping allegations against him. Though I do think that most of those allegations are bunk, she kind of did it in a brilliant way. Instead of focusing on the veracity of those allegations, she pointed out that part of Trump's defense was that they weren't attractive enough to attack. Though I actually think that's a decent defense, it makes Trump look like a jerk. 

Even people who think he is probably innocent have to admit that bashing the women because of their looks probably wasn't the way to go. I think people will forgive Trump if they don't think he did anything wrong, but one thing I have learned is that many women absolutely hate it when a man criticizes a woman's looks, even if that woman isn't someone they like or even care about. I know I have gotten bashed for it hard, even when I simply said I wasn't attracted to someone. Trump was doing it to defend himself against serious allegations, so it wasn't a good moment for him and was a great line of attack for Clinton. 

Other then that, and the fact that she adequately explained her policies, this was not a good night for Clinton. She had some major unforced errors. When she was talking about gun control, she bashed DC vs Heller, a critical Supreme Court case that finally cemented the right to bear arms in America, somehow trying to make it sound like toddlers were out popping caps in each other's asses. It was insane. 

Trump also had Clinton on the ropes with her Wikileaks scandal. She then tried to pivot to Russia, which would normally be a good move. But then she went on her rant about how the Russians were trying to steal the election from her and that Trump was some kind of Manchurian pro-Putin puppet candidate. It was unhinged and it could have been a deathblow for her if Trump hadn't had his own major unforced error as well. 

The worst moment for Clinton by far is the reaction to the James O'Keefe video that showed pro-Clinton super PAC's admitting to causing violence at Donald Trump rallies. After Trump rightly tore into Clinton on the issue Clinton did something unbelievable. She tried to blame Donald Trump, yet again, for the violence that occurred at his rallies, even though it's clear that, at the very least, it was her supporters that did so. At worst, she ordered it herself, and she had the gall to blame Trump for it? There's a term for that, and it's called blaming the victim. 

Clinton also seemed genuinely rattled when Chris Wallace brought up the Clinton Foundation. This gave Trump an opening to hit her hard on the issue and she was never really able to come up with a defense of the accusations. Though there is something to be said about ignoring accusations, indeed, I wish Trump had done more of that, she couldn't just leave a question about pay-to-play up in the air like that. 

That being said, she is damn lucky that the media is in the tank for her. None of her errors are going to make an impact except for the people that watched the debate. All the coverage is going to be about Trump's statement on the integrity of the election. This hurts her a bit too though, because like I said above, some of her attacks had the potential to hurt Trump and she did a fairly good job of explaining her plans for the country.

Donald Trump:
Trump won the debate but he needed to do better than just win. He needed to eviscerate Clinton and I don't think he did. Time and time again he had Clinton up against the ropes but he never quite finished her off. Instead he felt the need to defend himself. Given how many of her attacks on him were things that he had already spent a lot of time on in the other debates, like his taxes, this was a huge error. 

The worst of it was when Wikileaks came up. He completely blew that engagement even though Hillary Clinton was flailing around lost. Though he correctly called out the fact that she was obviously pivoting away from immigration and Wikileaks, two issues that greatly hurt Clinton, he dropped both of those issues to defend himself on Russia. 

That was, quite frankly, insane and a huge unforced error for Trump. First of all, he needed to stay on immigration as an issue. It's his campaign's signature issue and the main reason he has done as well as he has. And he had precious little time to bring it up but he squandered it. 

Second, even if he didn't go back to immigration, he could have focused on Wikileaks. The Podesta e-mails have some juicy stuff in them that Trump should have broadcast to the world. Most people aren't going to put in the effort to look at those e-mails themselves, so this was the perfect opportunity to tell the world what was on them, and he left that fruit rotting on the vine. 

I also think he made a major error when he answered the question about accepting the election results. Though I argued above that his sentiment was completely correct, his delivery was horrible. Though I have no doubt that Trump meant that he would contest the results if there was some obvious evidence of voter fraud or an "Al Gore" close tie situation, he made it sound like he would contest it no matter what. That made him look way more unreasonable then he should have and was another unforced error.

 It was a tough question regardless, but I would have answered it something like this: "Chris, that's a great question and I hate to say it but we might have to look at things after this election is over. The O'Keefe tape sure looked like the Democrats are planning voter fraud. They might do it, they might not, but if they do, I won't commit to just giving up. That would be crazy and we shouldn't reward cheating on that scale. But if Clinton wins fair and square, and there isn't any evidence of fraud, then yes, I will accept the will of the people." A much better answer, but unfortunately it wasn't the one that Trump made. He's going to have to live with the negative press coverage now.

With all that being said, this was still a good debate for Trump. He clearly did his homework on policy. He had good answers on foreign policy and his explanations for his plans were pretty good. Critically he shored up his conservative support on two critical issues. Gun rights and abortion. I'm very obviously pro-gun so his defense of gun rights was like throwing a raw steak to a lion. I loved it and it wills serve as a very strong reminder for pro-gun people what is at stake this election.

As for abortion, his extreme disgust and graphic description at partial birth abortion will probably win him support. I am on the record as not caring about abortion one way or the other but even I was pretty grossed out after hearing his description of what they do in those procedures. For pro-lifers this was a great moment for him because Trump has never been all that convincing as a pro-life candidate. I think that changed last night, and even though he said that Roe vs Wade is probably on the way out, I think people will remember his comments on partial birth abortion, which Hillary Clinton was forced to defend, way more than that. 

Trump also clearly unnerved Clinton at several points. I already said that she was on the ropes with the Wikileaks question, but it wasn't the only one. She was severely rattled by the Clinton Foundation question and Trump's response to it. Critically, she had about the worst reaction she could have possibly had when Trump bashed her for taking money from places like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who treat women and gays horribly. While Trump was bashing those countries for pushing gay people off of buildings, Hillary Clinton smiled. Now I don't blame you for not believing that, but go click on the video for the debate and put it at 57 minutes. See for yourself. 

I don't think for a second that Clinton thinks that pushing gay people off of a building is a funny thing. Indeed, I think her reaction was something like "wow, he really said that?" But the optics of it are terrible. As someone who is supposed to be in favor of LGBT rights, it's a hell of a bad way to show that support. And she made that mistake entirely because Trump rattled her. 

Trump was also calm and to his credit, he didn't interrupt Hillary nearly as much as he did in the first two debates. This was a kinder, gentler Trump. That isn't saying much but I do think he probably calmed some fears last night, or he would have if he had a better answer on the voter fraud question. He looked a lot more reasonable, presidential and calm then Hillary Clinton did.

This was a Trump victory, but it wasn't a blowout. Instead it's more of a 31-28 win, to put it into football terms. He could have destroyed Hillary Clinton but instead he let her off the hook. And he made some critical unforced errors that allowed Clinton to stay in the debate. 

Clinton, for her part, made some serious mistakes of her own, but as the apparent front runner, she just needed to survive. Right now, I think she did so. Some of that was on her own merit, due to good answers on some questions and her strong explanations on her policy, but she got some help from Trump's mistakes. 

I will say that this debate did way more then the last two when it comes to explaining policy. For example, when it comes to abortion, it's clear who you have to support if you care about the issue either way. We also got some very good answers on foreign policy and the various tax and trade plans. For people that vote strictly on policy, this was a great debate. 

Will it effect the polls? Well, I don't Trust the polls anymore anyways so who knows? I think the race is probably a tie now anyways, so any movement in the polls is probably just illusionary. Most people have made up their minds who they like better and won't be swayed either way at this point. What will matter is turnout and both candidates gave their supporters very good reasons to vote in November. 

As for me, I am somewhat saddened to see this phase of the election close. I have a lot of fun writing about these debates and writing them up as well. I also have to admit that I am still relieved that the election is wrapping up. It's been a long, stressful road for me and I am looking forward to what happens after, assuming that Putin doesn't get sick of all of us and just nukes everything. Assuming that doesn't happen though, I will be happy to be writing about other things once this is all done... 

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