We tuned into the final presidential debate of this crazy election year loathing both participants, and by the end of it we were loathing both even more, so we’re inclined to call it a draw. The target audience was whatever slight portion of the country is still holding out hope that one of these two awful people is at least somewhat less awful than the other, however, and with that in mind we’d have to say that awful Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton probably got the better of awful Republican nominee Donald Trump.
All the pundits in the traditional press seemed to agree that for the first 30 minutes or so Trump sounded like the sort of politely boring old-fashioned Republican who would probably be 20 points ahead of Clinton in all the polls, and that for the remainder of the debate he started acting like the proudly impolite and you-have-to-admit-at-least-he’s-not-boring candidate that overwhelmed all those politely boring but vastly more accomplished primary challengers and is currently six points or so behind in a general election race. Being politely boring old-fashioned Republicans ourselves we’d like to think we could have done better on the policy stuff, and would have come off far less awful during the rest of the debate, but we bitterly admit that this time the conventional wisdom is probably correct. Both candidates were at last forced to confront the fact of America’s crippling national debt, with the Democrat ludicrously asserting that the rich folks who currently pay an inordinate share of the nation’s taxes can pay off a mere $20 trillion or so of debt and the Republican ludicrously asserting that he’ll somehow create a 5 percent annual increase in the gross domestic product that will make it all go away, and both pretending that reforms to the entitlement programs that comprise some 60 percent of government spending aren’t needed, but we have to admit that the frank talk we believe in probably wouldn’t have done either any good. They were also asked about abortion, with the Democrat sticking to her long-held extremist abortion-rights-even-unto-the-ninth-month stand and the Republican sticking to his newly-found and also extremist punish-the-mother positions on the matter, but we doubt that anybody with strong opinions on the matter was dissuaded by either of their soundbites.
Clinton was the Secretary of State who presided over that awful deal that betrayed the Czechs and Poles on a deal to provide nuclear against the Russians, and who offered that ridiculously apologetic “reset” button that encouraged Russia to proceed with its revanchist policies in Georgia and the Ukraine and the rest of its former Soviet empire, but Trump once again bragged about how Russian dictator Vladimir Putin had said nice things about him and defended his admirer against the now undeniable charge that Putin has been hacking the Democratic party’s e-mails to help the Trump campaign. A boringly polite Republican candidate would have such taken to the opportunity to note that Clinton had also made her e-mails as Secretary of State vulnerable to foreign espionage by using an unsecured server that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has called “grossly careless,” but the you-have-to-admit-at-least-he’s-not-boring Trump took the opportunity to defend the Russian dictator against the charges leveled by every single civilian and military intelligence agency and declined a golden opportunity to say he didn’t approve of such foreign interference in an American election. This allowed Clinton to assert that Trump would be Putin’s “puppet,” causing to Trump to respond that “you’re the puppet,” and at that point we were only slightly reassured he didn’t mimic PeeWee Herman by saying “I know you are, but what am I?”
Clinton was stuck with the Democrats’ weak-kneed response to the Islamic State’s rise, Trump overstated its international influence and was reduced to arguing that a recent multi-national offensive against that terror gang was politically-timed and that Putin wasn’t propping up the Syrian and Iranian resistance. Some brief long awaited talk about the undeniable failure of the Obamacare health system would have helped a boringly traditional Republican candidate, but Trump’s past talk in support of an individual mandate and praise of single payer systems and blather about the government paying for universal coverage resulted in yet another desultory draw.
For those who stuck around for the good part where the candidates sparred over which one was more awful, it was probably another draw. Even the well-reviewed-by-the-mainstream-press Fox News moderator was obliged to ask Trump about his caught-on-tape and widely-publicized comments about grabbing women by the whatever, and an audience warned against any reactions had a good laugh when he claimed that nobody respects women more than he does, so although Trump was at least shrewd enough not to raise his usual accusations about Clinton’s husband that was probably a draw at the very best. By the end of the debate he was frequently interrupting Clinton, which probably doesn’t play well with the distaff 53 percent of the electorate that seems to loathe him even more than Clinton, and his interjection that she’s “such a nasty woman,” although accurate enough, probably didn’t win him any undecided votes.
Nor did Trump do himself any good, near the end, when he said that he’d keep the country “in suspense” about whether he’d accept the outcome of the election even if he lost. A boringly traditional Republican would have answered the question by saying that once the votes had all been counted, and absent any compelling evidence of fraud, that of course he would accede to the will of the people, but you have to admit that Trump at least isn’t so boring as that. The response will probably dominate the post-debate headlines, and the resulting debate probably won’t do him much good, but at least it will give his more die-hard supporters something to grouse about for another four years.
For those of us who can’t stand either of these two awful people or their awful for-the-moment policies, there will be plenty of grousing no matter how it turns out.
— Bud Norman