Tonight was the final Presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and there were fewer fireworks than in previous debates. In this one we finally spent most of it hearing their answers on policy questions and discussing what they would do as President, and much less time on trading barbs over each other’s various scandals. Believe it or not, and you may be forgiven for forgetting this in our modern media environment, but the policies and things they will do actually matter almost as much as whether or not they are jerks. Crazy.
With that said, there were winners and losers tonight. And they are …
DONALD TRUMP: Mind you, this was a razor thin margin. It’s very easy as a partisan to say that the winner of a debate is the person who said the things most aligned with your politics, but a debate winner must be the person who won the most out of the process of debating. At this point, Trump has to reach people who are repulsed by both of them, and not be visibly, viscerally more repellent. Though his temper slipped a few times, he was generally less of a boorish oaf this time than he typically is. In that way, he certainly gave people holding out some modicum of shelter to consider him. “Perhaps he will also be only somewhat repugnant as President, as well,” they can say. That’s a win by his considerably low bar.
Additionally, he got in some legitimately good hits on Hillary’s weak points, definitely shook her and drew temper from her, and gave pro-life voters some hope that he has something to offer them, if not understanding of the issues. And he successfully busted her again on her thirty years of not getting anything done, a good line of attack against her.
HILLARY CLINTON: Yes, also a winner. Trump’s margin I mentioned above was over himself, not her. Hillary won tonight as well, because she gave shelter to the independents, the undecideds, and the third party folks who are surely wavering at this point. Like Trump, she has to convince the people who hate them both to hate her less, and where he apppealed the haters who lean right, she appealed to the haters who lean left. She flat-out lied, but marginally successfully, on having a nuanced position on the Second Amendment. She successfully endured Trump’s outbursts, smiling the way her audience and Trump-haters alike will find pleasing, and she didn’t do the weird Hillary stuff like cackling, making too many strange faces (but some), or that bizarre shoulder shaking shimmy. By her also considerably low bar, that’s a win, too.
Additionally, on the one issue where Trump wins the majority of his “reluctant” supporters, the Supreme Court, he blew it, leaving her with no loss on the topic.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Putin will be grinning for hours. Hillary “reset button” Clinton, of the party of “the 80s want their foreign policy back,” went on a tirade about him, said he wants a puppet and will get it in Donald, Donald said SHE was the puppet and that Putin isn’t his best friend. This was all good for him. Of the three, he came out looking like the one with power and pulling the strings.
BARACK OBAMA, MITT ROMNEY, and JOHN MCCAIN: Remember candidates capable of debate? Of clever turns of phrase, respectful forcefulness, and deep knowledge of the topics at hand? Yeah. Miss em now, don’t ya?
THE SUPREME COURT: Hillary demonstrated that she will appoint exactly the kind of judges we all fear she will. Trump demonstrated a total inability to discuss the Supreme Court like someone who has heard of it, knows what it does, or why it matters.
FOREIGN POLICY: What can one say here? We’re doomed.
THE ECONOMY: See above.
IMMIGRATION: No matter which of them wins, there will be no satisfactory resolution on the issues of illegal immigration, legal immigration, or border security.
EVERYTHING and EVERYONE ELSE: Sorry folks. Wish we could take a mulligan. I really, really do.
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