The first two presidential debates of 2016 were something of a show trial. In the first, moderator Lester Holt of NBC interrupted Donald Trump more than 40 times and Hillary Clinton fewer than 10 times.
In the second debate, Anderson Cooper of CNN acted the inquisitor on the recently revealed groping tape. Co-moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC offered a retort to Trump, which she did not do with Hillary Clinton. So Trump was right that it was three against one.
In the third debate Wednesday night in Las Vegas, moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News seemed to offer the best possibility of an impartial referee. It didn’t exactly turn out that way, but it did emerge how the election might be rigged.
Clad in shimmering white, the Democratic candidate rattled off her views on the Supreme Court, which should “represent all of us” and not stand on the side of corporations and the wealthy. She wanted the court to overturn Citizens United, which brought in “dark unaccountable money,” and she wanted President Obama’s nominee to be confirmed. The Constitution of the United States did not get much play, if any, in her answer.
Republican candidate Donald Trump keystoned his answer around the Second Amendment and said he wanted judges in the mold of Antonin Scalia. It was “all about the Constitution,” which should be interpreted as the Founders intended. As an example of the futility of gun laws, he cited Chicago, a city with “the toughest laws and more gun violence.” Trump openly acknowledged his NRA support, and Hillary Clinton cast herself as something of a pro-run advocate seeking only sensible regulations, background checks and so forth.
On the abortion issue, Hillary said she would “defend Planned Parenthood” and Roe versus Wade. Trump said he wanted pro-life judges and spoke out forcefully against late-term abortions.
Trump gave his standard position on immigration, calling for a strong border and opposing amnesty. Hillary touted a “path to citizenship” and spoke of bringing people “out of the shadows.” To her charge that Trump would deploy deportation squads, which were “not in keeping with who we are,” the Republican responded that President Obama “deported millions.” That drew no challenge from the former Secretary of State or moderator Wallace, who raised Clinton’s “dream” of open borders, as she told a Brazilian bank in 2013.
“I was talking about energy,” Clinton said. “The electric grid.” That was the whopper of the evening, perhaps topping her reference, in the second debate, to Abraham Lincoln as an explanation for the need to hold public and private positions on issues.
After the energy evasion, Clinton turned on Wikileaks in her best hectoring tone. The hacking was the work of the Russian government, and came “from Putin himself.”
Putin would “rather have a puppet” and “he has a clear favorite,” Donald Trump.
Never, she said, had a foreign government interfered to such a degree in our elections, ignoring the proceedings in 1980 and 1984, when the Communist Party ran white Stalinist Gus Hall for president, and black militant Angela Davis on the bottom of the ticket. The government of the Soviet Union wanted Hall and Davis to win, along with other candidates that backed the nuclear freeze movement, such as John Kerry.
Trump charged that the Putin dodge was “a great pivot from open borders.” He decried the entry of Syrian refugees and cited a need to “stop radical Islamic terrorism,” which he said his opponent would not even name.
“Putin has outsmarted her in Syria,” Trump said, and “outsmarted and outplayed” the Obama-Clinton tandem on every font in the Middle East, where Iran was gaining power. Trump again denounced the Iran deal as a virtual guarantee that the Islamic regime would gain nuclear weapons. Trump also cited the Clinton-Obama re-set with Russian as very much to the Russians’ advantage.
In the “fitness to be president” segment Wallace raised the issue of women charging Trump with abuse. Trump said the stories were false and “her campaign did it.” It was all “lies and fiction,” and from there Trump made a quick pivot of his own.
“What is not fiction is her emails,” he said. They had been under subpoena, he said, but she destroyed them. Others faced jail time for similar offences, but “she gets away with it,” in her “crooked campaign” that had “hired people to be violent” at Trump events.
On the issue of a rigged election, Wallace wanted to know if Trump would accept the result. “I will look at it at the time,” Trump said. Besides the millions of people registered to vote who should not be there, he said, and “media corruption,” his opponent “should not be allowed to run, based on what she did with the emails.”
Trump told the audience that generals faced jail time for similar offenses. He also charged that “what FBI and Department of Justice did is disgraceful,” citing the meeting in the airplane before the statement of FBI boss James Comey, who has a record with the Clintons. He found no cause to press charges.
If anyone watching the debate wanted further reading, they could consult David Horowitz, who called Comey’s action the most breathtaking political fix in American history. The day of the second debate, former U.S. Attorney Joseph DiGenova weighed in on C-SPAN.
“It is very clear that from the moment he [Comey] took control of this investigation,” DiGenova said, “he decided that he was not going to recommend the prosecution of the first female nominee of a major party for president of the United States. The FBI director made a political decision. He did not make a law enforcement decision.”
Meanwhile, on the subject of Aleppo, moderator Chris Wallace charged that Donald Trump had “said things that were not true.” At no point in the debate did Wallace note that Hillary Clinton had said things that were not true, on any subject at any time. It was 20 years ago that New York Times columnist William Safire, in an essay titled “Blizzard of Lies,” called the First Lady a “congenital liar.”
It was well into the debate before Wallace raised the issue of the Clinton Foundation and conflicts of interest. The moderator did not get into specifics and let the Democrat rail on about the great things she believed the foundation had done.
“I’ve been privileged to see presidency up close,” Hillary Clinton said in her closing statement. She was now “reaching out to all,” and standing up to powerful interests and corporations.
Donald Trump also stayed on message in his closing statement: “We cannot take four more years of Barack Obama and that’s what you get with her.”
On November 8, the voters will decide if that’s what they get.