Live Blog: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton face off in their final live televised debate
Debate Time: 6PM Pacific Time / 2AM UK Time
7:48PM Las Vegas / 3:48AM London
Summarising the final debate
Well, that was by far the best of the three presidential debates. Chris Wallace had by far the most gravitas of all of the moderators called to undertake this most difficult of tasks (shaming those who questioned his abilities simply because he works for Fox News), and broadly kept things on track. I particularly liked the way that he ordered his questions, ensuring that the debate started with substantive policy discussions, with the more contentious issues (the personality based stuff) sandwiched in the middle.
Others seem to agree that this debate was a cut above the rest:
The headline that most pundits will take away is the “shock” revelation from Donald Trump that he will not necessarily accept the result of the presidential election if he is not declared the victor. I have no idea why they are surprised – Trump has been essentially making that very point continually for weeks now, with his accusation that the election is being “rigged” by Hillary Clinton and a compliant media. If you really do believe that the election is stacked against you (as Trump seems to have persuaded himself), why on earth would you concede in the event of defeat? This isn’t a matter of agreeing with Trump, it’s a matter of logic.
Will Trump’s refusal to accept the validity of the election upfront actually harm him? Well, in terms of everything else that he has done over the course of this campaign I don’t see how this will be any more off-putting to undecided voters than his other antics. And of course it will be red meat to his most ardent supporters.
But from a policy perspective, what did we actually learn from this most policy-focused of the three debates? Well, essentially the candidates simply reinforced what we already knew. Hillary Clinton sees government and the state as the answer to nearly every question, even those questions which nobody has asked yet. She wants to “invest” in the American people, which sounds positive until you remember that investors tend to demand a dividend or some other type of return for their largesse.
Donald Trump, meanwhile, gave no more evidence that he has actually studied the issues or gained a level of expertise (or even curiosity) beyond the same glib soundbites that one would expect from a first-term congressman in a very safe Republican district. Repealing and replacing Obamacare, but with what? We still don’t really know. Rebuilding the military, but in what areas and to what levels? We don’t know. Eliminating the budget deficit and tackling the national debt? Sure. But how? Donald Trump will tell us later.
And so the decision before American voters remains as unappetising as ever:
Hillary Clinton remains this blog’s choice, for the simple reason that she is the type of uninspiring, statist technocrat that Americans have had before (and proven that they can endure), while Donald Trump represents a leap off a cliff. It is a thoroughly depressing choice, but the only conceivable choice that this blog can make.
Andrew Sullivan seems to be drinking the Kool-Aid and actually mustering enthusiasm for Clinton, which is more than I can do:
I mean, he’s not wrong in terms of Trump’s temperamental unsuitability for office. But was this a “devastating” defeat for Trump from the perspective of viewers? I think not. In fact, Trump may have just squeaked another points victory in this debate. What may well be devastating from Trump, though, is the fact that he failed to score the kind of knock-out victory that he really needed.
Points victories and incremental improvements will not save Donald Trump at this point. And Democrats, together with conservatives of conscience, should probably be very grateful that he failed to do much better.
7:36PM Las Vegas / 3:36AM London
Apparently the candidates did not agree to closing statements. Chris Wallace blindsides them by demanding one anyway, one minute each. Good for him. These debates have all suffered for not having the candidates try to wrap up their message and key themes (as far as Trump can claim to have a “theme” at the end.
Clinton says she will do “everything I can to ensure you have good jobs and rising incomes”.
Trump says “she is raising money from the people she wants to control. It doesn’t work that way”. Whereas Clinton painted a positive message (as one would expect from the continuity candidate), Trump paints a dark vision of America where “you get shot walking to school”, the military is run down and everything is bad.
“We cannot take four more years of Barack Obama, and that’s what you get with her”, Trump concludes.
And that’s a wrap.
7:32PM Las Vegas / 3:32AM London
Good final question by Chris Wallace, asking candidates whether they would adopt a “grand bargain” to save entitlements incorporating benefit cuts and tax increases to share the pain.
Trump immediately pivots to the need to “repeal and replace ObamaCare”. He won’t ask anything of Americans or suggest that difficult decisions or sacrifices might have to be made. No, everything is easy in Trump Land. Everything can be fixed by signing another great trade deal or standing up to China. This is just infantile, superficial stuff.
Clinton says that she will “raise taxes on the wealthy”, and makes a witty remark that she would raise taxes on herself “and on Donald, assuming he doesn’t find a way of getting out of it.” But she “will not cut benefits”.
7:30PM Las Vegas / 3:30AM London
Clinton wants “to invest in you, to invest in your family”. Again, there is no role which she does not envision the state playing in the lives of Americans. But her line about American growth being powered by the middle class rather than the wealthy few will resonate.
7:29PM Las Vegas / 3:29AM London
Hillary Clinton guns for Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan again, affirming that America already is great. These Canadians would agree:
7:27PM Las Vegas / 3:27AM London
Hillary Clinton again specifically describes the picture of the Syrian boy “sitting in an ambulance with blood coming down his face” in an attempt to sentimentalise the need for military action in Syria. Of course, this enlightened humanitarian was also part of an administration which dramatically stepped up drone warfare against numerous targets, including American citizens, and which has been highly reluctant to reveal civilian casualty estimates.
7:19PM Las Vegas / 3:19AM London
How things stand so far
I generally concur with this assessment:
By the greatly warped standards with which we now judge presidential debate performances, this is probably on the money. Trump has been hitting Hillary Clinton very hard, quite effectively in some places, displaying open contempt and derision for her in some places – “Thanks a lot, Hillary, great job!”, he said at one point.
But because of his manifold personal flaws, Hillary Clinton has always had at least ten ready comebacks and zingers to every criticism that Trump has made. Even where he was effective on the email scandal and on foreign policy, Clinton has been able to wriggle her way out of trouble.
From a Clintonian perspective, Hillary can look back with satisfaction thus far. She has remained calm and composed, avoided committing any obvious gaffes once again, and effectively rendered Trump ridiculous-looking (to all but his most committed supporters) at several points. There have been no magisterial moments of brilliance, but then Hillary Clinton isn’t a brilliant political candidate. Agree with her or not, she is a shrewd political operator. But a candidate, not so much.
7:18PM Las Vegas / 3:18AM London
Hillary Clinton says that Trump is “the most dangerous person to run for president in the modern era.”
7:16PM Las Vegas / 3:16AM London
Donald Trump hammering Hillary Clinton for the Obama administration’s policy of drawing down troops in Iraq, and the subsequent fall of Mosul and other cities to ISIS.
This would be a whole lot more effective if Donald Trump was not stubbornly and transparently lying about having supported the initial invasion of Iraq.
7:13PM Las Vegas / 3:13AM London
Cynical Democratic posturing on taxes – and their subverting of language by speaking of “undocumented” rather than “illegal” immigrants – knows no limits:
7:10PM Las Vegas / 3:10AM London
Hillary Clinton accuses Trump of “whining”, and “denigrating our democracy”, and says that she is “appalled” that a major party nominee would take that position.
Both candidates are now finally starting to have some success steamrollering over Chris Wallace when they really want to make a point or land an attack.
7:08PM Las Vegas / 3:08AM London
“She should not be allowed to run. She’s guilty of a very serious crime”, says Trump, speaking about Hillary Clinton’s email scandal and “so many other things”.
Well, he’s coming out fully swinging now, that’s for sure.
7:07PM Las Vegas / 3:07AM London
Chris Wallace putting Donald Trump on the spot as to whether or not he will accept the outcome of the presidential election if he loses.
Trump responds: “I will look at it at the time. What I’ve seen is so bad. The media is so corrupt”.
So that’s a no, then.
7:05PM Las Vegas / 3:05AM London
“Everything he says about charity or anything else – you can’t prove it”, says Clinton, finally bringing up Donald Trump’s undisclosed tax returns. Fair criticism.
What is not fair, though, is criticising Donald Trump for offsetting his income tax liability against past business losses. Clinton is in no position to clutch her pearls in faux moral outrage about this – if you don’t want people to take advantage of legitimate tax loopholes, don’t create them and don’t tolerate them.
7:04PM Las Vegas / 3:04AM London
Hillary Clinton complaining that Donald Trump used money given to his foundation to buy a portrait of himself. Fair enough. But Hillary Clinton hired Sidney Blumenthal to the Clinton Foundation – after the Obama administration forbade her from hiring him at State – for the expressed job of polishing the Clinton legacy. She is in absolutely no position to criticise Donald Trump for being vain.
7:01PM Las Vegas / 3:01AM London
Chris Wallace asking Hillary Clinton about “pay to play” allegations relating to the Clinton Foundation.
My take on the foundation:
The point, I suppose, is that a family charitable foundation is a perfectly legitimate option for an ex-president and his family who intend to quit the political game after leaving office. But when this is not the case – when Hillary was pursuing senatorial ambitions and later becoming Secretary of State – conflicts of interest are inevitably going to occur.
When one is as rich and well-connected as the Clintons, acquiring more money becomes of limited interest. Instead, the reason for getting up in the morning after having left the White House often becomes the building of power, influence and legacy – and, of course, keeping the family in the style of living to which they have become accustomed (i.e. minimal contact with ordinary people). A family foundation accomplishes all of these objectives wonderfully. But when one or more members of the family are still politically active it is highly questionable.
It would have been far better, when there are still active political careers in play, for the Clintons to have put ego aside and thrown their support behind an alternative, existing foundation – much like Warren Buffett is giving away much of his wealth to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, recognising that it makes little sense to build up his own philanthropic expertise from scratch and create all the overheads which come from a second foundation when a perfectly good one already exists.
Why did the Clintons not take the Warren Buffett approach? Three reasons – ego, power and prestige. It is great that the Clintons are philanthropically active. But nearly all of their philanthropic work is done through the Clinton Foundation ($1 million to the foundation in 2015 and just $42,000 to another charity), meaning they want to do charity on their terms. It is a few distinct shades further away from pure altruism, and more to do with continuing to exercise power after the White House.
6:59PM Las Vegas / 2:59AM London
It’s worth pointing out that Hillary Clinton would not be able to make herself look good by reeling off a list of all the indefensible things that Donald Trump has said if the Republican Party had nominated somebody remotely serious. But they didn’t, so here we are.
6:57PM Las Vegas / 2:57AM London
If we are going to call out devious pivots, then it is only fair to criticise Donald Trump for his evasions too:
6:55PM Las Vegas / 2:55AM London
Clinton rightly rakes Donald Trump over the coals for scoffing at the possibility that he might have sexually assaulted several women because they were not good looking enough.
“Trump goes after [women’s] dignity, their self worth. And I don’t think that there’s a woman out there who doesn’t know how that feels”, says Clinton. A powerful line.
She then descends into bland platitudes about diversity, and America being great, and our children and grandchildren and blah blah. But it was a calm, measured and broadly effective denunciation of Trump’s character.
Donald Trump denies saying something that he blatantly did say, and accuses Clinton’s campaign of being “sleazy”.
6:54PM Las Vegas / 2:54AM London
Chris Wallace asks why so many women would make up stories about Donald Trump behaving inappropriately toward them.
Trump responds by alleging that the Clinton campaign fed the stories to the media, and then goes further, accusing Hillary Clinton of fomenting violence at his campaign rallies. In any other presidential campaign that would be an incendiary statement. This time…it’s about average.
6:52PM Las Vegas / 2:52AM London
I’m not sure that Hillary Clinton’s broad, beaming smile when Donald Trump alleges that “she gave us ISIS” is the best reaction shot…
6:51PM Las Vegas / 2:51AM London
Looks like Clinton has come with a prepared response to Trump’s “thirty years” criticism this time. She reels off a list of all of her past jobs, contrasting what she was doing at certain points in time with what Donald Trump was doing.
“When I was in the situation room for the Osama Bin Laden raid, he was hosting Celebrity Apprentice”, snaps Clinton. Ouch.
6:49PM Las Vegas / 2:49AM London
Donald Trump resurrects his “you’ve been around for 30 years; why didn’t you do all these things earlier?” line. It’s effective. I mean, it also completely overstates the political power of a first lady and first-term junior senator, but it is still an effective line.
6:49PM Las Vegas / 2:49AM London
I’m with Giordano’s:
6:46PM Las Vegas / 2:46AM London
Again, Donald Trump unfavourably compares the GDP growth of the United States (a developed country) with that of India and China, both developing countries. This is infantile, sheer economic illiteracy. No advanced economy in the world grows at a clip of 8-10%. What is Trump’s secret formula?
6:44PM Las Vegas / 2:44AM London
Andrew Sullivan concurs with me on Donald Trump’s effective call-out of Hillary Clinton’s “open borders” evasion:
She has no good answer on her private remarks about her dream of open borders in the Western hemisphere. And so she tries to shift the question to Putin’s role in Wikileaks. Trump is right: that was a nifty pivot, and he exposed her.
6:42PM Las Vegas / 2:42AM London
Amazing “free trade deals” are not going to eliminate the budget deficit, Donald Trump, let alone tackle the national debt. It’s a glib answer worthy of a junior congressman, not a presidential candidate.
6:40PM Las Vegas / 2:40AM London
Clinton mocking Trump’s “trickle-down economics on steroids”.
Well, it’s better than “Trumped-up trickle-down”, I guess.
6:38PM Las Vegas / 2:38AM London
Naturally Hillary Clinton sees the state as saviour, promising “the greatest jobs program since World War 2”. This is all so predictable, a cookie-cutter Democratic nominee’s response.
6:37PM Las Vegas / 2:37AM London
And we’re on to the economy.
6:36PM Las Vegas / 2:36AM London
Stefan Molyneux has a great rebuttal to Hillary Clinton’s sudden concern about foreign powers wielding influence over American policy:
6:34PM Las Vegas / 2:34AM London
So far, Trump has failed to have the kind of stand-out moment that he really needs. There’s still an hour to go, but he is not winning on the Russia argument and there are a decreasing number of remaining openings available to mount a fightback.
6:33PM Las Vegas / 2:33AM London
Getting very tired of Hillary Clinton’s opportunistic, cynical scaremongering about Russia. This is everything I detest about Clinton. This blog is no fan of Putin’s Russia, but Clinton is vastly over-hyping any possible threat Russia poses to the United States in her pursuit of power.
6:31PM Las Vegas / 2:31AM London
Good response from Trump, calling out Hillary Clinton’s pivot and evasion. Wanting open trade and open borders is a perfectly legitimate political position, but if that is what Hillary Clinton really wants then she should have the courage to own her leaked statement and defend it. But she won’t, because she lacks principle.
If only the alternative wasn’t Donald Trump…
6:28PM Las Vegas / 2:28AM London
Excellent! Chris Wallace brings up Clinton’s speech in which she revealed her dream of a “hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders”.
Clinton has no response – she immediately pivots to scaremongering about Russia, a country with a GDP less than Spain who are no longer the powerful Evil Empire of Reagan’s era. Nice pivot, but will Wallace allow her to get away with it?
6:28PM Las Vegas / 2:28AM London
One of Trump’s weaknesses is that he cannot restrict himself to criticising Hillary Clinton, and veers off to criticise her husband as well:
6:25PM Las Vegas / 2:25AM London
“We are a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws” says Hillary Clinton, whose nominating convention in Philadelphia featured lots of illegal immigrants standing on the convention stage being cheered for their lawbreaking.
6:24PM Las Vegas / 2:24AM London
And Clinton naturally begins with an anecdote about a young girl worried about her illegal immigrant parents being deported, sentimentalising the issue and waxing about how she doesn’t want to “rip families apart”.
And of course she refers to “undocumented” rather than illegal immigrants. Because this is all part of the leftist agenda to control thinking through use of language, softening the language to make people tacitly accept – even celebrate – illegal immigration.
6:22PM Las Vegas / 2:22AM London
Seems that Trump has brought four women who have lost children or relatives to murderers who turned out to be illegal immigrants. Looks like he is taking the “law and order” approach to the immigration issue rather than the jobs issue.
“We have to have strong borders; we have to keep the drugs out of the country .. We absolutely cannot give amnesty” says Trump.
“One of my first actions would be to take the drug lords – we’re going to get them out”, he continues. It’s that easy, apparently.
6:22PM Las Vegas / 2:22AM London
Oh good, we’re on to immigration. At least Chris Wallace might distinguish between legal and illegal immigration in his questioning, unlike much of the left-leaning media.
6:18PM Las Vegas / 2:18AM London
Good to see Chris Wallace putting Hillary Clinton in the spot as to how far she would go in support of abortion rights. Clinton, of course, is of the opinion that the foetus has no Constitutional rights. It’s easy to mop up votes by waxing about the “right to choose”. Much harder to grapple with the thorny questions to emerge from that blanket pronouncement.
Clinton gives a solid answer – clearly she has prepped well, knowing to expect some more socially conservative questions in this debate.
Trump talks about “ripping the baby out of the womb” in an abortion just prior to birth. Clinton says that the language Trump used is “unfortunate”. Yes, it is – because Trump didn’t sanitise the issue as Clinton so desperately wants to do.
6:16PM Las Vegas / 2:16AM London
The US Libertarian Party, a refuge for many principled conservatives this election cycle, is providing some liberty-minded commentary of this debate as it proceeds:
6:14PM Las Vegas / 2:14AM London
Hats off to Chris Wallace. Ten minutes into the debate and we are talking about real, thorny issues and matters of policy relating to gun control and the Second Amendment. Neither of the first two debates managed to get so serious so quickly. That an anchor from “evil” Fox News has managed to do so should be a matter of shame for the others.
6:12PM Las Vegas / 2:12AM London
Rod Dreher rightly warns that Donald Trump didn’t mention anything about religious freedom. And that, of course, is because deep down he doesn’t care about religious freedom. Because he isn’t a real conservative.
6:10PM Las Vegas / 2:10AM London
Interesting choice by Chris Wallace, diving into the debate by talking about the Supreme Court and judicial process. Neither candidate is able to come out swinging in dramatic fashion – will this more measured opening set the tone for the debate?
6:08PM Las Vegas / 2:08AM London
Donald Trump predictably starts talking about how the Second Amendment is “under siege”, a reliable vote winner for Republicans. Note how the great federal gun seizure is always planned for “tomorrow” though. GOPers have been warning that Obama is coming for America’s guns since before he took the oath of office, and yet the Second Amendment remains intact. But Trump is happy to keep peddling an existential threat which is largely non-existent.
6:07PM Las Vegas / 2:07AM London
Hillary Clinton immediately politicises the Supreme Court, saying that it should stand on the side of “the people” (meaning her leftist policies). I’m sorry, but no. The Supreme Court should stand on the side of the Constitution, not on the side of whatever basket of special interests Clinton decides to label “the people”.
Clinton sees the Supreme Court as an essential vehicle for continual, aggressive social change, far beyond anything that can be reasonably inferred from the text of the document and the original intent of the Founders. Not good.
Unfortunately, Clinton is able to score a point by pointing to Republican obstructionism over the nomination of Barack Obama’s appointment for Justice Scalia’s replacement.
6:05PM Las Vegas / 2:05AM London
Chris Wallace’s first question is about the Supreme Court, and where both candidates “want to see the court take the country”. He follows on to ask whether they believe the Constitution is a living document or set in stone.
6:04PM Las Vegas / 2:04AM London
And they have taken the stage. Both look serious – no handshake.
6:01PM Las Vegas / 2:01AM London
David Harsanyi rages against the media’s moralising against Donald Trump in a piece for the Federalist. Harsanyi writes:
So forgive me if I don’t take liberal concern-trolling about the GOP’s wicked presidential choice too seriously. After all, even if Republicans had nominated the most qualified, competent, and chaste moderate in the existence of the republic, there still would be no #NeverHillary movement within the Democratic Party. No matter how many scandals were uncovered. No matter how many lies she told. What they’ve done is normalize Hillary’s behavior. Because Trump.
Actually, many of these same people treated a competent and ethically upright moderate like Mitt Romney just like they treat Trump. And even the most sexist-sensitive liberal would likely support a lecherous Bill Clinton over a virtuous Republican nominee. Because state power is the virtue. So spare us.
It’s been something to watch the media engage in this smug, self-satisfying, feigned outrage — much of it aimed at real Trump scandals, and plenty of it hyper-parsing and overreactions — after giving him nearly unlimited and uncritical airtime during the primaries to ensure his nomination for the ratings and to help Hillary.
It’s hard to disagree with some of this. While Donald Trump fully deserves enormous criticism for his behaviour any many of his ill-considered policies, much of the media’s excessive pearl-clutching has been more than a little cynical and contrived.
5:59PM Las Vegas / 1:59AM London
Chris Wallace admonishing his audience not to “hoot and holler” as the candidates debate. It will be interesting to see if he enforces this rule across the board, or if he criticises Trump supporters for cheering while letting Clinton supporters scream to their hearts’ content.
5:56PM Las Vegas / 1:56AM London
We’re about to get underway. The warm-up act is regaling the audience with a riff about how great an opportunity this debate is for the students at the University of Nevada, many of whom are helping out with logistics. Unless this debate is much better than the previous two, I think that this “opportunity” is a decidedly mixed blessing.
My wife and I are due to spend a few days in Las Vegas with family after Christmas – hopefully this debate will not reduce the city to a smoking crater in the ground.
5:48PM Las Vegas / 1:48AM London
Is this the launch of Trump News Network?
This blog has recently speculated that Donald Trump’s intentions may have either shifted away from winning the presidency towards stoking up his supporters enough to turn them into loyal viewers of a future Trump cable news network.
It’s not as crazy as it sounds:
As a serious attempt to build an election-winning coalition of voters or persuade a majority to abandon their doubts and embrace his “ideology”, Trump’s continued behaviour has been entirely counterproductive. But as a strategy to enthuse his most ardent supporters and drive a further wedge between them and all mainstream sources of news (even including Fox News) it has been a masterpiece. Journalists are now routinely booed at Trump rallies, while the candidate himself accuses the media of being part of an organised establishment plot to swing the election for Hillary Clinton.
Currently these voters are served only by the more fringe conservative media – sites such as World Net Daily, Breitbart, InfoWars and alt-right personalities like Paul Joseph Watson and Mike Cernovich. And while many of these outlets are professionalising their operations, there probably still exists a gap in the market for a well-funded, professional-looking television news network that looks like CNN but talks like Alex Jones.
And now there are further intriguing signs that the grounds may be being prepared for a move into the news media:
If you don’t like the coverage you are receiving from existing networks, just create your own. Putin and Berlusconi would be proud.
5:42PM Las Vegas / 1:42AM London
And we’re back. Apologies for the pause. Semi-Partisan Politics is operating using rather ancient computing power, and things crawled to such a halt that an emergency reboot was necessary. Perhaps this is not a bad time to mention that if you find this blog’s coverage useful and entertaining, donations large and small are most welcome.
High on the list of upcoming necessary purchases is a laptop which doesn’t die when you try to open more than five tabs, and which doesn’t give off the heat of a nuclear reactor.
5:03PM Las Vegas / 1:03AM London
Donald Trump’s debate prep guru has apparently thrown in the towel and given up trying to teach Trump the Unteachable.
In advance of the debate, The Hill reports:
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and former Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes are reportedly no longer speaking.
New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman revealed that “Ailes’s camp said Ailes learned that Trump couldn’t focus—surprise, surprise—and that advising him was a waste of time.”
“These debate prep sessions weren’t going anywhere,” Sherman added during the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit on Tuesday.
Quite why it took Roger Ailes this long to realise that Donald Trump is a dud candidate is anybody’s guess – perhaps the man who taught George H. W. Bush to swagger is finally losing his touch, what with also having been drummed out of Fox News.
4:57PM Las Vegas / 12:57AM London
When Rudy Giuliani has to act as your chief character witness, you know you’re in trouble:
4:55PM Las Vegas / 12:55AM London
Fiscal conservatives will appreciate this one:
4:35PM Las Vegas / 12:35AM London
CNN continue to promote the presidential debate as though it were a heavyweight boxing match:
4:18PM Las Vegas / 12:18AM London
What would it take for Trump to win the election?
The National Review paints a stark picture of the uphill battle faced by Donald Trump to win critical bellwether swing states like Ohio:
If Trump does win Ohio, he will achieve something many thought was impossible, winning a hard-fought swing state without any long-standing major campaign get-out-the-vote operation. It will obliterate everything every campaign professional has ever taught or learned about the importance of preparation.
On the plus side: Trump’s biggest fans would seemingly walk through fire for him, with an army (of indeterminate size) of volunteers willing to give up their own time and money to get people to the polls in an impromptu, uncoordinated get-out-the-vote operation. And while all comparisons between the UK’s vote for Brexit and the Donald Trump campaign are vastly overblown and often offensive, one common feature is that both anti-establishment insurgencies are buoyed by people whose political engagement seems to have gone from near zero to off-the-charts.
On the negative side (for Trump): Hillary Clinton has been waiting for this moment her entire life, and her professionalised get-out-the-vote operation will build on all of the success of the previous George W. Bush and Barack Obama political operations. Hillary Clinton has had political operatives laying the crucial groundwork in states since well before Donald Trump even threw his hat into the ring.
4:10PM Las Vegas / 12:10AM London
Yes, the Clinton email scandal matters
In the wake of further Wikileaks email revelations from the hacked account of Clinton campaign apparatchik John Podesta, the National Review reminds us exactly why Clinton’s decision to use a private email server while serving as Secretary of State – and her subsequent evasiveness and liberty with the truth when held to account for her actions – is an entirely legitimate point of criticism.
Their editorial states:
Although it was ostensibly investigating Clinton and her State Department staff (many of whom had become her campaign staff), the Justice Department kept campaign officials in the loop about developments in Freedom of Information Act cases related to Clinton’s e-mails, and about administration efforts to delay and minimize disclosures. The DOJ worked with the Clinton team’s defense lawyers to restrict the FBI’s ability to ask key questions and examine critical evidence. It also declined to present the case to a grand jury, which the DOJ must do in order to subpoena critical evidence and indict culpable suspects. Instead, it gave the suspects immunity from prosecution and made other gratuitous concessions in order to acquire evidence the production of which could have been compelled.
Meanwhile, as the former secretary’s claims about never having sent or received classified information were exposed as lies — in fact, some of her e-mails contained information classified at the very highest levels of secrecy — the State Department colluded with Clinton aides to control the fallout. Newly disclosed FBI documents suggest that high-ranking State Department official Patrick Kennedy leaned on the FBI, and perhaps other agencies, to downgrade classification of Clinton’s e-mails (which might bolster her false denial of transmitting classified information) and to exploit Freedom of Information Act exemptions (which would allow the State Department to withhold disclosure of e-mails that would be politically harmful). This news should come as no surprise. FBI reports had previously indicated that State Department brass were pressuring career officials to change designations to minimize Clinton’s apparent misconduct.
While Kennedy and others were applying pressure from Foggy Bottom, Podesta sought help from a different source. Months ago, the State Department grudgingly acknowledged that Clinton and President Obama had exchanged at least 18 e-mails over Clinton’s private account, and FBI reports obtained by Congress revealed that Obama used an alias on those occasions. Prior to that revelation, Podesta suggested to Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s top aide at State and a key campaign adviser, that the White House invoke executive privilege to shield those exchanges from a congressional subpoena.
This isn’t partisan point-scoring. This is really bad. And while it may not have the telegenic allure of a good old fashioned sex scandal, it speaks to character every bit as much – and it probably speaks to Hillary Clinton’s likely governing style as president even more strongly.
In any other presidential election, Hillary Clinton’s actions with regard to her email would be immediately disqualifying. The fact that she remains preferable to a potential Donald Trump in this dismal election cycle is a reflection on just how bad of a candidate (and a person) he is, and is certainly not a reflection of any virtue or worthiness on Hillary Clinton’s part.
3:56PM Las Vegas / 11:56PM London
Left-wing anxiety about the “Fox News debate”
The New York Times is paranoid that the final presidential debate, moderated by Chris Wallace of Fox News, will fail in his duty of impartiality:
A major topic at tonight’s presidential debate — maybe the first topic — will be “debt and entitlements,” according to Chris Wallace, the Fox News host who is moderating the debate.
I encourage you to watch for whether Wallace bases his questions on budget reality. Much of the public discussion of the national debt isn’t based on reality. It instead relies on facts that are badly outdated.
[..] Reasonable people can disagree about how much to emphasize the decline in the projected debt versus how much to emphasize the debt itself. But it’s simply irresponsible to talk about the debt while ignoring the enormous change.
Wallace has a reputation as a serious journalist, not a Fox News partisan like Sean Hannity, and I hope Wallace lives up to that reputation.
A reasonable concern? I suppose so. But Chris Wallace, like Shep Smith, is one of the good guys at Fox News, and I have no reason to doubt that he will chair the debate in a professional manner.
Besides, for impartiality to come into question would require the debate to actually focus on the detail of fiscal policy rather than devolving into glib soundbites and insults, a level of discourse which neither of the first two debates managed to reach.
3:45PM Las Vegas / 11:45PM London
What to expect from this final presidential debate? Who knows. Read ten different press previews and you’ll get ten different answers. But one thing is clear enough – if Donald Trump really wants to turn his campaign around and actually make a Hail Mary pass for victory rather than simply continuing to stoke the resentments of his supporters, he needs to do something extraordinary.
What precisely that “something extraordinary” looks like is difficult to say. He could try going after Hillary Clinton even harder – really hammering her on things like the email scandal and her relationship with Wall Street. But attacking harder is likely to just make him look deranged to more moderate voters, people who don’t necessarily buy the Hillary Is Satan schtick that his hardcore supporters love. The only way that attacking harder might benefit Trump is if he actually manages to achieve a moment of combustion and really make Clinton lose her temper or composure. And even then, it’s hard to see how Clinton injures her own prospects more than Trump.
As for Hillary Clinton, I fully expect her to spend most of the debate in cautious, defensive “home stretch” mode. Sure, we might see the odd flash of steel as she tears into Donald Trump’s character, particularly around the new sexual assault allegations (which conveniently emerged not when Trump was being a reality TV star, not when he was being a birther, not when he was fighting for the GOP nomination but only in the final month before the presidential election. I’m not saying the allegations are false, but I am saying that their convenient timing doesn’t do anything to allay Trump supporters’ paranoia that the whole thing is rigged against them).
But aside from a few more cheesy, canned one-liners and a few telegenic “shame on you” moments (which, don’t get me wrong, Trump fully deserves), I expect we will see Hillary Clinton behaving like the England football team protecting a one goal lead against Slovakia with 45 minutes left to play. Dull, uninspiring, and acceptable only if she doesn’t self-destruct and concede a last-minute equaliser.
3:00PM Las Vegas / 11:00PM London
Yes, I’m blogging the final Trump v Clinton 2016 presidential debate. I’m doing it again. Goodness knows why – it’s certainly not for the benefit of my mental health or circadian rhythm. But it seems right and proper to see this thing through to the bitter end.
As always, I welcome your feedback and company as we watch along together. Please feel free to use the Comments feature, or contact/troll me on Twitter or by email.
You can read my live-blog of the first debate here and the second debate here. New readers – welcome, see my About page here for a brief bio.
Top Image: Joe Raedle/Getty, Rolling Stone
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