By John Manning – International Banker
The third and last 2016 US presidential debate took place at 9 PM ET on October 19 at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas between Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump. Once again, no third party candidates attained the required polling threshold to qualify to participate. This debate was moderated by Chris Wallace, anchor of Fox News Sunday and the winner of three Emmys. The debate’s format was similar to that of the first debate, with six 15-minute segments on topics of moderator Wallace’s choice. Each candidate was given two minutes to respond to the question then a subsequent opportunity to respond to each other. The six broad discussion topics included the Supreme Court, immigration, the economy, each candidate’s fitness to serve as president, foreign hot spots, and entitlements and debt.
As has been typical of this atypical US presidential campaign, the days between the second and third debates were filled with competing allegations against the two candidates. While a few women stepped forward after the release of the 2005 Access Hollywood tape, in which Trump made lewd remarks about women, to say that they had been touched or kissed inappropriately by Donald Trump in years past, WikiLeaks released a steady stream of hacked emails from Clinton’s campaign chair John Podesta. This damaging flood was interrupted only when Julian Assange’s Internet connection (from his place of refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London) was cut off by the Ecuadorian government, coincidentally when US Secretary of State John Kerry was visiting London to discuss Syria and Yemen.
Trump created a new controversy by suggesting that both candidates should be tested for drugs before the debate to ensure that neither was taking performance-enhancing drugs—or perhaps echoing “conspiracy” concerns that the Democratic candidate may be secretly being treated for Parkinson’s Disease or another chronic condition due to displays of possible health problems while out in public.
Malik Obama, the Kenyan half-brother of President Barack Obama who is an American citizen, was invited to be Trump’s guest at the final presidential debate. He had said in July that he planned to vote for Trump. On a separate theme, news circulated hours before the debate that the Clinton and Trump families would not shake hands, according to presidential debate protocol, at Clinton’s request, supposedly because of Trump’s attempt at the second debate to ensconce the alleged sexual assault victims of Bill Clinton in the Trump family cubicle, which would have forced former President Clinton to interact with them.
Wallace’s first question dealt with the Supreme Court. He pointed out that the next president will be able to make at least one appointment and possibly more, which will determine the balance of the court for the next quarter of a century at least. He asked the candidates where they wanted to take the court, and how the US Constitution should be applied in their decisions.
Clinton answered by stating that the central issue of this election is what kind of country the US people want it to be. She emphasized the need to promote rights for citizens, saying the Supreme Court needs to stand on the side of the American people not powerful corporations. She said she would stand up on behalf of women, the LGBT community, that she would say “no” to the conservative Citizens United organization. She pointed out her major disagreements with Donald Trump, saying that she felt it was important that the Supreme Court not reverse marriage equality and Roe vs Wade. She stated that the court should represent all Americans. She took the Senate to task for refusing to confirm President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.
Trump agreed that the Supreme Court needs the right justices. He emphasized that his nominees would support the Second Amendment, which he claimed is under siege. He stated that Clinton if elected will knock the Second Amendment down. He also said that he had named 20 potential justices, all conservatives. He advocated justices who would interpret the Constitution the way its founders envisioned it, justices who would uphold the Constitution the way it was meant to be
Clinton said she supported the Second Amendment, the constitutional right to bear arms, but that she wanted to see reasonable gun regulation. People who shouldn’t have guns shouldn’t be able to threaten innocent people. She advocated background checks and other reforms, which would not conflict with the Second Amendment. Wallace reminded her that she had said that the Supreme Court, specifically conservative Justice Scalia (now deceased), had been wrong in applying the Second Amendment to the Heller guns rights ruling, but she claimed she had objected to the ruling because the District of Columbia had been trying to protect toddlers from guns, and the case was really about safe storage of guns. She noted that 33,000 people die every year in the US from gun use.
Trump said again that he would ensure that the Second Amendment was protected and suggested that Clinton had been angry with Justice Scalia over the decision. He also said he supported a national “right to carry” law. He pointed out that Chicago has the toughest gun laws in the nation but also the most gun violence. He mentioned that he has the support of the National Rifle Association.
Wallace moved the conversation along to abortion. Trump declared his pro-life stance. He said he would like to see rulings on abortion cases go back to the states. With more pro-life justices on the Supreme Court, Roe vs Wade would eventually be overturned.
Clinton stated her support for Roe vs Wade, for a woman’s right to make the decision. She said states were putting very stringent regulations on women. She defended Planned Parenthood, which she said Trump was in favor of defunding. She claimed Trump had advocated for some form of punishment for women who have abortions. Trump stated that Clinton had claimed that a fetus has no constitutional rights. But Clinton responded by again defending the rights of the mother, saying the government shouldn’t make decisions involving the life and health of the mother.
Trump said it was not OK with him to rip a baby out of the womb in the ninth month, just prior to birth, even on the final day. He said that was not acceptable. Clinton argued that this was not her position but continued to defend the woman’s right to choose.
The next topic was immigration, with Wallace reminding Trump that he had vowed to build a wall on the country’s border with Mexico. Trump claimed that Clinton had offered no solution for border security on the southern border but instead wanted to give blanket amnesty to illegal immigrants. He stressed the need for strong borders. He said parents of people who had been killed by illegal immigrants were in the audience at the debate. He claimed that open borders would allow more drugs to come into the country, and pointed to how US border patrol forces were emphasizing the need for strong borders. Trump went on to identify heroin as a plague destroying American youth. He said drugs were pouring across the southern border. “We’re getting their drugs; they’re getting our cash.” He again stressed the need for a wall to secure the border, and a tough approach to drive drug lords out.
Clinton then mentioned a girl she knew who had been born in the US, but her parents had not been; this young lady was worried that they will be deported if Trump wins. Clinton said she doesn’t want a deportation force. She pointed out that there are 11 million undocumented people with four million children, requiring a massive law enforcement force to go from home to home, school to school, rounding up undocumented people. This approach would rip the country apart, she said. She claimed to support a comprehensive immigration plan that would deport violent people. She promised immigration reform within the first 100 days of her presidency.
Trump reminded the audience that he had already met with the president of Mexico, and he said the meeting had gone well. He also said that Clinton had been in favor of a border wall 10 years earlier but didn’t get it done. Clinton responded by defending undocumented workers, pointing out how important it is that the government not let them be exploited, especially in the workplace, then went on to claim that Trump had exploited illegals.
Trump stated that President Obama had deported millions of people. He stressed the need for the country to have laws. They either had borders or not. Some illegals would be allowed to come back in, immigration officials would speed up the application process. He stated that Clinton did advocate for open borders. In response Clinton argued that she would have secure borders but also reform.
Wallace then quoted a hacked WikiLeaks email, reciting a sentence from the transcript of one of Clinton’s Wall Street speeches, for which she was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars: “My dream is a hemispheric common market with open trade and open borders”. Clinton replied that she had been talking about energy. She then went on to accuse the Russian government of being engaged in espionage against the American public and of giving the results of their hacking to WikiLeaks to release. She accused Russian President Putin of trying to influence the current election in favor of Trump. She challenged Trump to admit this was true and condemn the Russians for their hacking of American parties.
Trump returned to his claim that Clinton wants open borders, that she wants a 550 percent increase of Obama’s target goal of refugees to be admitted into the country. He stressed that he wanted to stop radical Islamic terror. He denied he had any ties with Putin, saying he doesn’t know the Russian president. But he also indicated that he felt Putin has outsmarted the current administration and that the Russian president has no respect for Clinton or Obama. Clinton returned by saying that Putin would rather have a puppet as the US president, someone who would break up NATO. She said that Trump was Putin’s favorite. And that it was unprecedented for a foreign government to try to influence the outcome of an election. She said that top US national security experts had confirmed that cyberattacks were originating from the Kremlin.
Trump said that she had no idea if these hacks were coming from Russia. He went on to say that Putin had outmaneuvered her in the Middle East, but he did condemn any foreign party who might be interfering in the election. Clinton accused Trump of being casual about nuclear weapons and said that some military experts had stated they did not trust Trump with the country’s nuclear codes. While Clinton stressed the need to maintain alliances, Trump stated that he would re-negotiate agreements with allies. He said the US cannot continue to defend other countries; they need to defend themselves. In response to Clinton questioning his trustworthiness with the nuclear codes, Trump reminded her that he had been endorsed by 200 generals and admirals.
When Wallace steered the conversation to the economy, Clinton painted a positive picture, promising more government spending and entitlements. She stressed the importance of fostering the middle class. When the middle class thrives, America thrives. She wants to grow the economy from the middle out, giving the middle class more opportunities, especially through new jobs in areas such as clean energy. She briefly discussed her plan to raise the national minimum wage, to ensure women get equal pay. She also stressed the need for more technical education and apprenticeships. She indicated some students at certain income levels would be able to attend college debt free. As she has said in the past, her plan guarantees that the wealthy will pay their fair share, calling Trump’s tax plan to cut taxes on the wealthy and corporations “trickle down on steroids” and ineffective.
Trump claimed Clinton would raise taxes then went on to ask why foreign countries were not paying for the protection they are receiving from the United States. He indicated that Clinton favored the country’s allies at the expense of the American people, even when the national debt had risen to $20 trillion. Trump said he supported trade, but the country needed to address the problem of jobs being sucked out and fleeing to countries such as Mexico. He proposed renegotiating NAFTA, but if it couldn’t be renegotiated then he would work out a new trade agreement. He said he wanted to cut taxes, cut business taxes and bring money back into the country. He claimed the nation’s economy was “dying” at 1 percent GDP growth.
Clinton and Trump argued back and forth about their tax plans, with Clinton claiming that Trump’s plan will involve large tax cuts and add to the debt. She said she planned to invest in people, invest in new jobs, education, skill training. She again stated that cutting taxes on the wealthy will not work.
Trump said that Clinton’s plan is similar to President Obama’s stimulus plan that led to slow GDP growth. Clinton replied that Obama had inherited an economic disaster in 2008 and that he had had to take hard positions to dig the country out of recession. She said the US was now standing but not running. She reiterated her plan to “invest from the middle out”, not from the top down. She said her plans would not add a penny to the debt.
Trump claimed her plans were unrealistic, and that they needed to do more to get the economy moving. He pointed out that oil prices are still too low, GDP growth too slow at 1 percent. He highlighted the growth of other countries by comparison. India’s is at 7-8 percent, while China’s is at 7 percent, which is low for them but high compared to the US. He said the latest jobs report was terrible. The United States’ economy is stagnant with lost jobs, lost businesses and products pouring in from other parts of world, he went to say. He said that his campaigning had been an education for him. He had passed factories that were now closed because of NAFTA, which Bill Clinton signed when president. Trump said NAFTA had been one of the worst deals for the country. He then went on to state that Clinton wanted to sign the TPP, and the two candidates fell into a brief argument about her stance on this, with her concluding that she was not in favor of the final version. She went on to mention China, which she said was “illegally dumping” steel and aluminum in the US, and that Trump has bought it to construct his buildings. She said she would enforce trade agreements and appoint a trade prosecutor.
Trump went on to question Clinton’s record while in office—she talked, made promises, but didn’t get anything done for 30 years. He confirmed that she has experience but “bad experience”. He brought up the issue of $6 billion being missing from the State Department during her tenure as Secretary of State. He went on to say that if she becomes president, the country would be in a similar “mess”.
Clinton denied her opponent’s “$6 billion missing” from the State Department charge. She then went on to compare her last 30 years in public service with Trump’s time as a son from a wealthy family, a real estate developer and a reality television star. Trump said he had built a phenomenal company after receiving a $1 million loan from his father. And that if he could re-build the country as he had built his business, it would indeed be great again. He then skipped over to the Middle East, mentioning that Clinton’s foreign policy in Iraq and Syria had created ISIS, which she would not be able to get rid of as president.
Wallace then launched into the topic of each candidate’s fitness to be the president of US, starting with Trump’s recorded comments about women from 2005. He stated that nine women had subsequently come forward to say that in the past Trump had groped or kissed them without their consent. Trump claimed that their stories had largely been debunked. He then drew attention to the Clinton campaign as likely encouraging the women, just as they had “paid” rioters to cause unrest at Trump’s rallies, reminding Clinton that inciting riots was a criminal act. Trump claimed he had not apologized to his wife for the claims the women had made against him as their stories were fiction and lies.
Clinton stood behind the women who had come forward since the last debate claiming that Trump had been sexually aggressive with them. She then went on to say that at rallies he had belittled them by claiming they were not attractive enough for him. She said that Trump feels “bigger” when he belittles women, and that the way he acts toward women does not demonstrate “who we are and who our country is”. She said the people expect their next president to bring the country together, not pit people against each other. She stated that “America is great, because America is good”.
Trump defended his attitude toward women, claiming that no one has more respect for them than he does. He blamed the untrue stories from the women on the “sleazy” Clinton campaign, before reminding the audience of how Clinton had destroyed 33,000 emails criminally after being subpoenaed. He pointed out that a four-star general would probably go to jail for one lie to the FBI, while Clinton had lied to the FBI but been let go. Clinton went on to say that Trump continually denies responsibility and never apologizes. She claimed he had “gone after” a disabled reporter, the Muslim parents (the Khans) of a war hero, John McCain and other prisoner of wars, the federal judge with Mexican parents who ruled on a Trump University case. She pointed to his pattern of divisiveness and his dangerous vision of the country, which would incite violence. She said that was not who America was.
Wallace then introduced the topic of the Clinton Foundation, citing Clinton’s statement during a 2009 Senate confirmation hearing when she became Secretary of State that there would be no conflicts of interest between her State Department work and the Clinton Foundation. Wallace pointed out that there had been evidence of conflict of interest surrounding the foundation, with donors getting special favors such as government contracts. Wallace asked her if she had kept her pledge to the Senate committee, or had the foundation been involved with a “pay to play” scheme?
Clinton stated that she had acted in the country’s interests as Secretary of State. She claimed the Clinton Foundation was a world-renowned charity, and gave some examples of their work, such as making it possible for millions of people to get HIV treatment. She said there was no evidence of pay for play.
Trump, though, called the Clinton Foundation a criminal enterprise. He pointed out that amongst its most generous donors are Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two countries that are known for abusing women. He challenged her to give that money back. He went on to say that the Clinton Foundation has taken lots of money without giving anything back, and provided Haiti as an example. He claimed that Haitians “hate” the Clintons, that their foundation has been a disgrace in Haiti. Clinton defended the foundation, saying it spends 90 percent on behalf of its programs and had received high ratings from charity watchdogs. She compared it to the Trump Foundation, which she said has used funds to buy items such as large portraits of Trump and to help pay for the costs of his lawsuits. She said that because he still had not released his income tax returns, it was not possible to say exactly who had donated to his foundation.
The candidates then discussed tax loopholes, with Clinton pointing out that billionaire Trump had used these to pay less federal tax than some undocumented immigrants. Trump did not deny that he took advantage of the deductions, just as her wealthy donors, such as Warren Buffett and George Soros, did. He went on to say that Clinton should have changed the tax laws when she had the chance, but that she wouldn’t change them because she was determined to protect her Wall Street friends.
The discussion then turned to Trump’s assertion at his rallies that this election is “rigged” against him and that Clinton is trying to “steal” it. Wallace pointed out that Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, and his daughter, Ivanka, had both said they will accept the results of the election. He asked Trump if he would.
Trump didn’t commit himself but replied that he would look at it at the time. He accused the media of being dishonest and trying to poison the minds of the voters but that voters were seeing through this. He also claimed that millions of people were registered to vote who shouldn’t have been registered to vote. He went on to say that Clinton should not be allowed to run because of her “crimes”, her emails and “so many other things”. He accused the FBI and Justice Department of dropping the ball on the Clinton case. When asked again if he would honor the traditional peaceful transition of power—at the end of the campaign the loser concedes to the winner, and the country comes together, Trump indicated that he would let Wallace know at the time but until then keep him “in suspense”.
Clinton responded that Trump’s evasive attitude to the election result was “horrifying”. She went on to assert that he always feels everything is rigged against him, mentioning that he had even complained about not winning Emmys for “The Apprentice” show. She said they would each accept the election outcome even if they don’t like it. And she reiterated President Obama’s claim that Trump was whining, an indication that he was not up to the job.
Wallace steered the conversation to foreign hot spots, in particular the Iraqi push to take back Mosul and drive ISIS out. He asked that if they were successful, what about the day after? Would the candidates put US troops into that vacuum?
Clinton expressed her support of the effort between Iraq’s military, Kurdish forces and special forces. But she said she would not support placing American soldiers in Iraq as an occupying force, arguing that this would be a red flag to ISIS to come back. She said she would continue to press into Syria and move on Raqqa, the headquarters of ISIS. She pointed out that Syria is a hotbed with Russians and the Syrian government fighting against Syrian rebels. She recommended a surge in intelligence, air strikes, online strikes, a no fly zone and safe havens within Syria to stop the flow of refugees.
Trump said the US had Mosul under control before Secretary Clinton took all the US troops out, then it was lost to ISIS. He objected to the practice of announcing beforehand that a campaign was to be waged against Mosul, which lost the element of surprise and allowed ISIS leaders to escape Mosul. He took issue with the recent Iran deal with the UN Security Council, claiming that Iran is now taking over Iraq and will be the beneficiary of a recaptured Mosul. The candidates then debated whether Trump had supported the Iraq invasion before it began, with him again denying that he had while she claimed to have evidence to the contrary. She went on to say that Trump was unfit to be president, while Trump claimed that people such as Democrat Bernie Sanders had said that Clinton has bad judgment. Clinton retorted that Sanders has said that Trump is the most dangerous person to have run for president.
The conversation turned to Aleppo, which all agreed was a humanitarian nightmare, with a quarter of a million people being slaughtered as the Syrian government and Russia bomb the rebels holding out in the city. Trump took issue with the US commitment to back the rebels against Assad, though, pointing out that if Assad is overthrown, something much worse may take his place.
Clinton was asked about the wisdom of a no fly zone for Aleppo, as it might draw the US deeper into the conflict. If the US shot a Russian plane down, it could start a direct conflict between the two superpowers, along with Russia’s allies Syria and Iran. She said the no fly zone would require negotiations and emphasized again her determination to provide safe zones to stem the tide of the millions of people who are leaving Syria. She argued that while she had the best interests of the Syrian people in mind, she would not allow anyone into the US who wasn’t properly vetted. She proposed working with Muslim communities.
Trump again blamed Clinton and Obama for allowing ISIS to happen. He mentioned the recent ceasefire in Syria and claimed that Russia had taken advantage of it. He said the US is continually outplayed by Russia, Syria’s Assad and Iran because of “stupid” leadership in the US.
Wallace moved on to the topic of debt and entitlements. He pointed out that the national debt was projected to be 77 percent of GDP. He went on to say that a panel of experts had predicted Clinton’s plan to bring the debt up to 86 percent of GDP, and Trump’s to 105 percent of GDP. Trump answered by saying that he plans to create jobs, causing GDP to grow from 1 to 4 percent and beyond. He would stop the conditions that are taking jobs away, stop companies from being raided, re-create the country as it used to be. He said he wanted to create a great economic machine that would put people back to work, and help companies grow and expand.
Clinton asked when Trump ever did think that America was great, pointing out that he has been criticizing the government for decades, even back in the Reagan years. Clinton said she would pay for everything she proposes and not add to the debt. She admitted that the country needs to come to grips with debt and that she would demand that the wealthy and corporations pay their share. She claimed that rebuilding the middle class, the families of America, was the smartest way to grow the economy.
Wallace pointed out that the biggest drivers of debt are entitlements. He said that neither candidate’s plans plan for Medicare and Social Security, which are both soon going to run out of money. He asked Trump if he would make a deal to save Medicare and Social Security. Trump replied that he would repeal and replace Obamacare. He stated that premiums are going way up. He asserted that Clinton wants to not only keep Obamacare but make it worse.
Clinton said she would address the shortfalls in Social Security and Medicare through tax increases on the wealthy to save the programs. She claimed Trump’s massive tax cuts would add to the national debt and that his plan to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act would only worsen the problems with Medicare. Clinton claimed she had a plan to get entitlement spending under control.
Wallace asked the candidates to end the debate on a positive note, to provide closing statements on why Americans should elect them to be president.
Clinton said she was reaching out to all Americans, to help everyone to be what they should be, to make life better for all. She claimed that children and families had been her life’s work and that she would continue to stand up for families against powerful interests, including corporations.
Trump said he had started his campaign with a vision of making America great again. He promised to work for the military and veterans, accusing the current administration of looking after the needs of illegal immigrants before those of veterans. He pointed to the desperate living conditions of inner cities and promised to do more for African Americans and Latinos. He said the effort to make America strong again has to start now, not four years from now, claiming that a Clinton presidency would be just more of the Obama presidency.
There was much speculation about whether or not the two candidates would shake hands either before or after the debate. For this last debate, they did not shake hands at all.