By Emma Emeozor
The third and final United States’ presidential debate held Wednesday at the Thomas and Mack Center, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, ended with sparks of fury and bitterness and the two candidates left the stage without a handshake.
Certainly, the audience and watchers of the live event were not amused as Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton walked up to have a handshake with the moderator, Chris Wallace, of Fox News and exited the stage in front of Republican candidate Donald Trump without exchange of pleasantries. The lack of the spirit of sportsmanship demonstrated by the two candidates throughout the 90 minutes of the debate was a climax of the antagonism that has characterised the campaign.
But even in a ‘do-or-die’ election, which is now the scenario in the 2016 race for the Oval Office, a winner is bound to emerge. And if presidential debates were the final parameter for determining a winner, then Clinton would have been declared winner on Wednesday. The Chicago-born politician won the first debate, the second debate and the third debate. Even then, Americans remain divided in their choice of who wears the crown on November 8, when they go to polls. Ironically, Trump remains confident that he would win, if the election is not rigged. With 16 days to go, the U.S., an avowed apostle of democratic elections, is on trial.
Post-debate CNN/ORC poll
According to the CNN/ORC poll, Clinton won the third debate, “topping Trump by a 13-point margin.” A breakdown of the points shows that 52 per cent “thought Clinton did the best job while 13 per cent thought Trump did.” Yet, 50 per cent said Clinton agreed with them more on the important issues while 47 per cent thought Trump did; 61 per cent thought Clinton had a better understanding of the issues, while 31 per cent thought Trump did; 59 per cent thought Clinton was better prepared to handle the presidency as against Trump’s 35 per cent.
Topic of the debate
The candidates were asked to explain their views and plan of action on the following topics: The Supreme Court (emphasis was on the Second Amendment, particularly abortion and guns), immigration, the economy, debt and entitlements, foreign hotspots and fitness to be president.
Candidates’ performance at a glance
Certainly, the two candidates arrived the venue of the debate battle-ready to win. The topics were not new to them after all. They have been part of the campaign issues they have talked about severally. But like every examination, they needed to prove they truly understod the depth of the issues. They needed to prove their respective solutions were workable and sustainable. They needed to prove, respectively, that they were not mere political jesters but would-be President that could be trusted with the destiny of the country. Clinton was firm and straight as she articulates her points. She remained focused on issues and tried to avoid distractions. On the other hand, shortly after the debate kicked off, Trump, who had appeared cool, lost focus, repeating the same mistakes he did during the first and second debates. Either he was carried away by the audience or he thought he was addressing a rally of party supporters. Put differently, while Clinton addressed the issues with command and astuteness and appealed to the sense of reasoning of her listeners, for the most part of the debate, Trump was off-guard. He more or less trivialised the issues and appealed to the emotions of his audience. Precisely, Trump exhibited a ‘sadistic’ approach not well enough for a President. The Supreme Court was the first topic of discourse. Clinton started by saying: “…I think, when we talk about the Supreme Court, it really raises the central issue in this election, namely, what kind of country are we going to be? What kind of opportunities will we provide for our citizens? What kind of rights will American s have?” Trump started by drawing attention to Justice Ginsburg who made “some very, very inappropriate statements” toward him and “toward a tremendous number of people, many, many millions of people” he represented. “And she was forced to apologise. And apologise she did. But these were statements that should never, ever have been made,” he said. He not only kept people waiting but he also personalied the issue.
On immigration, Trump was quick to forget that his decision to build a wall along the border with Mexico has been strongly criticised. Commenting, he said: “…I want to build the wall. We need the wall” and he went on to say “…we have some bad hombres here, and we’re going to get them out.” ‘Hombre’ is a Spanish word meaning men. It was, therefore, another direct threat to American-Latinos. Yet he needs their votes. On the other hand, Clinton, in her comments, started by drawing attention to the plight of a young girl, Carla, who she met in Las Vegas. She said Carla “is very worried that her parents might be deported, because she was born in this country but they were not.” Clinton went on to say: “I don’t want to rip families apart. I don’t want to be sending parents away from children. I don’t want to see the deportation force Donald has talked about in action in our country.”
Whatever was the opinion of the audience, one thing was obvious, a show of sensitivity to human plight by Clinton as against the use of brute force to ‘cast’ away the ‘undesirables’ from the U.S.
And Trump’s unrepentant position on undocumented immigrants drew the ire of Clinton. She punched Trump thus: “And Donald Trump knows a lot about this. He used undocumented labour to build Trump Tower. He underpaid undocumented workers, and when they complained, he basically said what a lot of employers do: You complain, I’ll get you deported.” In his attempt to reply Clinton, Trump veered off track and chose to attack President Barack Obama. “President Obama has moved millions of people out. Nobody knows about, nobody talks about it.” But Obama is not a contender for the presidency anymore and no law binds Clinton to continue with Obama’s policies if elected. No wonder Obama recently accused him of whining.
On the economy, Trump has persistently accused China of exploiting Americans. He argues that jobs are moving from the U.S. to China, Mexico and other countries. But Clinton ‘rebuked’ him. She said: “Donald has bought Chinese steel and aluminum. In fact, the Trump Hotel right here in Las Vegas was made with Chinese steel. So, he goes with crocodile tears about how terrible it is, but he has given jobs to Chinese steel workers, not American steel workers.”
Campaign of calumny, violence
Even as Clinton tried to neutralise Trump and portray him as a ‘troublemaker,’ Trump gave it back to Clinton for a moment when he accused her campaign of playing ‘dirty’ politics with the story of nine women who accused him of either groping them or kissing them without their consent: “Those people … I don’t know those people. I have a feeling how they came. I believe it was her campaign that did it” Drawing attention to violence that marred his rally in Chicago, Trump said: “She’s the one and Obama that caused the violence. They hired people … they paid $1,500, and they’re on tape saying be violent, cause fights, do bad things.” But sad enough, Trump did not know when to stop once he had started talking even when the moderator repeatedly warned that he had two minutes.
But when he raised a point against Clinton, he did so either from the point of weakness or he digressed to pour invectives on his opponent. An example of such a scenario was when he hit Clinton with her e-mail scandal. He failed to press hard. Ditto with Clinton’s health status. Many would also remember Trump talking from both sides of his mouth when he avowed that “no one had greater respect for women” than him, and almost in the same breath interrupted Clinton, calling her “such a nasty woman,” adding to his handicap with women voters.
Trump may be an experienced and successful businessman but it would appear he had not been well tutored on contemporary politics, especially the aspect of campaigns and elections. Asked to, respectively, tell Americans why they should be elected President, Clinton appealed for the support of all, Democrats, Republicans, Independents. She said: “I would like to say to everyone watching tonight that I’m reaching out to all Americans, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, because we need everybody to help make our country what it should be …” On his part, Trump spent more time about how Clinton was “raising money from the people she wants to control. Doesn’t work that way. But when I started this campaign, I started it very strongly. It’s called ‘Make America Great Again.’”
The Trump bombshell
The U.S. has always prided itself as a nation where power transits peacefully. It is an example of a nation where defeated presidential candidates accept their loss without recourse to violence.
Will the case of Trump and Clinton be different? Perhaps, apprehensive of the allegations of rigging that Trump has raised at rallies recently and that Clinton wass in process of trying to steal it from him, the moderator sought to know if Trump would make a commitment that he “will absolutely accept the result of the election.”
Trump’s answer was mindblowing. He said: “I will look at it at the time. I’m looking at anything now. I’ll look at it at the time. What I’ve seen …what I’ve seen is so bad.” Then, he digressed to lash at the media, “First of all, the media is so dishonest and so corrupt, and the pile-on is so amazing. The New York Times actually wrote an article about it, but they don’t even care. It’s so dishonest. And they have poisoned the mind of the voters.”
He alleged that millions of people registered to vote “shouldn’t be registered to vote.”
Pressed on by the moderator, Trump said: “What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense. OK?”
But just as political analysts were concluding that his response was informed by the realisation that his “poll numbers are horrible,” Trump threw the bombshell that would create panic across the country and even beyond.
A day after the debate, at a rally in Ohio, Trump raised the alarm that he was being asked to waive his right to contest the election. This was after he was bashed by critics for his response to the question on accepting the result.
He said: “I would like to promise and pledge to all of my voters and supporters and to all the people of the United States that I will accept the results of this great and historic presidential election, if I win.” He also pledged to accept “a clear election result.”
Here lies the Trump challenge Americans would have to address quickly before the results are declared.