Kendall Gilbert analyses the third, and last, US Presidential debate two weeks before Election Day.
After a week of sexual assault allegations, hacked emails and biting personal attacks, Trump and Clinton hit the debate stage for the final time of the 2016 campaign on Wednesday. The meeting would prove to be the most substantive and jarring of all three. But what set this debate apart was Clinton’s willingness to use many of Trump’s tactics against him. The move would risk exposure to character attacks but could also give her the chance to deal Donald a critical blow. Could she pull it off?
Both Trump and Clinton spent their week fending off negative media coverage over leaked tapes and campaign revelations. Trump was still dealing with the fallout from a 2005 recording, where he bragged about sexually assaulting women. Nine women have come forward since the release of that tape, each alleging Trump made unwanted advances toward them. Trump could only deflect, tweeting the allegations were “made-up stories and lies” that were ”rigged by the media, in a coordinated effort with the Clinton campaign.” Surprisingly, Trump’s counter claims had some merit. At the same time of the sexual assault allegations, Wikileaks dumped a total of 23,000 hacked Clinton campaign emails. In them was evidence of a cozy Clinton-media relationship. Most damaging was an email chain between Clinton campaign manager John Podesta and Glenn Thrush, a Politico Reporter who allowed Podesta to edit an on-going draft of a story. It was a lucky twist for Trump who continued to bash Clinton’s character. Although damaging, Trump’s sexual allegations were perceived worse than Clinton’s collaboration with the media. Going into the final debate, Clinton found herself in a much stronger position that Trump.
After starting substantively, the debate quickly dissolved into a slugfest. It was Clinton’s willingness to use Trump’s own tactics that swung the momentum in her favor. While discussing immigration, Hillary attacked Trump, saying he “choked” at a meeting with Mexican President Nieto in August. Trump pushed back, alleging Clinton wants an open border policy, as suggested in hacked emails. But Clinton pressed harder, characterizing Trump as Putin’s “puppet” in an attempt to broadly smear his weak foreign policy experience. The tactic worked. Clinton forced Trump into a long defensive response that switched between Putin, emails and immigration. It was a solid start for Clinton who kept the heat on Trump for the rest of the debate. In one exchange, when Bill Clinton’s infidelities entered the discussion, Hillary managed to out maneuver Trump, instead pressing him on his own sexual assault entanglements. It was an otherwise dream moment for the Trump campaign drowned out by Clinton’s offensive overtures. At other points Clinton seemed more at ease than Trump on stage. While he spoke of his Las Vegas casino, Clinton interrupted to say his hotel was “made with Chinese steel” causing the audience to laugh. In other exchanges she spoke over Trump and the moderator, breaking with her tight decorum of the previous debates. All of this seemed to frustrate Trump as the debate wore on. During a Clinton response to a question on social security, Trump interrupted to simply call Clinton “a nasty woman.”
Hillary’s risk paid off. She employed Donald’s tactics, caught him off guard and got under his skin. She might not have delivered the final blow to Trump’s campaign but she extended her lead in the polls. Now with two weeks until Election Day, the candidates will crisscross the country, desperately fighting for votes. And if the debate is any indication, expect the attacks to get more personal and “nasty” up until Election Day on November 8.
Featured Image: Wikimedia