America collectively grimaced as the two major party presidential candidates hit the stage on Wednesday, Oct. 19. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump verbally sparred in front of Chris Wallace, Fox News political commentator.
Luckily for those who are interested in policy this debate was centered more on the candidates’ plans for the nation as potential presidents rather than about scandals and accusations. Of the ten main topics that were discussed only three of them centered on scandals, with the rest being actual topics of interest that affect America and the world.
Still, there were a number of things that were talked about that were unusual for presidential debates. When immigration was brought up as the second main subject things progressed how one would expect. Trump lambasted Clinton while pushing his hallmark of a wall between Mexico and the United States. Clinton talked about the need for reform and created a haunting mental image of what it would look like if Trump actually managed to succeed in creating a deportation force.
This back and forth proceeded until Wallace mentioned the speech Clinton gave to a Brazilian bank where she revealed her dream of open borders. Clinton began her response by clarifying that she dreams of open energy trade, not open borders concerning immigration. She then pivoted toward the fact that the speech transcript was released through Wikileaks, a non-profit organization that publishes secret information from anonymous sources.
Clinton successfully turned the topic of immigration toward the likelihood that Russia was behind the hacking of John Podesta’s email and called for Trump to condemn Russia for their espionage, which he had encouraged in the past.
Clinton also had to answer questions about her conflict of interest between her position as Secretary of State and her charity, the Clinton Foundation. Emails through Wikileaks showed that people who had donated to the Clinton Foundation got special access to grants for Haiti relief, government contracts and taxpayer money.
Wallace asked Clinton the very difficult question of the difference between that and the “pay to play” favoritism that Trump accused her of. When pressed, Clinton talked briefly about her work as the Secretary of State; she then went on a loquacious monologue on the many accomplishments of the Clinton Foundation.
Wallace did not let her get away with deflecting the question and pressed her to directly answer the question. While Clinton floundered to give an answer, Trump talking over her and then steered the conversation toward her charity in general as opposed to the direct conflict of interest. This eventually pulled the conversation away from Clinton’s mistakes and toward a competition between which of the two candidates had the more generous and morally upright charity.
This exchange was a losing battle for Trump and allowed Clinton to avoid the truly dangerous conversation of Clinton’s favoritism. Similar gaffes were made by Trump throughout the debate, some of Trump’s own volition, but some were arguably set up by Clinton through subtle and unsubtle jabs that she made throughout the debate.
Clinton mocked Trump for not asking about his wall in a meeting with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto. Clinton also called out Trump for employing undocumented workers while threatening to deport them and strongly suggested that Trump would become Putin’s puppet if he were to become president.
Trump was also criticized for buying Chinese steel instead of American steel; Clinton spoke about how she was in the situation room to take down Osama Bin Laden while he was hosting “Celebrity Apprentice,” twice, and she was incredulous toward Trump Foundation buying a six-foot portrait of Trump himself. These attacks, while valid, are unusually personal and seemed designed to goad Trump into making reckless statements while attempting to defend himself. If this was the goal, she succeeded.
Beyond Trump just being Trump, like referring to people he would deport as “bad hombres,” he seemed to get visibly upset about these attacks throughout the debate. Trump responded as an elementary school child might, calling Clinton a puppet twice in response to Clinton suggesting such a thing.
He interrupted Clinton multiple times to say she was wrong or that she cannot respond to Trump’s plans or ideas, called her out very forcefully when she interrupted him to answer a rhetorical question and bragged about the amount of respect he had for women (which got a laugh from the audience). Trump even went so far as to call Clinton a “nasty woman” near the end of the debate.
This is not for lack of Trump trying to mount attacks against Clinton. He attempted to push on her inability to change things for the better while she was in office and the conflict of interest with her as Secretary of State and the Clinton Foundation. Trump attempted to cite videos where democratic campaigners talked about committing voter fraud, deliberately inciting violence just outside of Trump rallies. He also tried to call into question incorrect stances Clinton had in the past.
The problem occurred when he tried to capitalize on these points, as he missed key details on why these things mattered, what happened, or tended to divert the conversation to his own ideas of why Clinton is bad as opposed to reasons that the nation would think Clinton is bad. Even as an attacking presidential candidate, Trump does not often succeed in the precision and effectiveness of his attacks.
No bigger story is being talked about than the fact that Trump did not commit to accepting the results of the election after Nov. 8. Wallace directly confronted Trump on this and asked if he will absolutely commit to the results of the election. Trump punted the ball further down the field by saying, “I will look at it at the time."
When pressed even further, he ended the subject by saying, “I will keep you in suspense.” Not one to miss this opportunity, Clinton responded by calling that “horrifying,” then talked about the many times Trump has accused different organizations of being rigged against him; this included Trump not winning an Emmy for his TV program. While there is evidence of bias in Clinton’s run against Bernie Sanders in the democratic primary, Trump does not mention this and instead defends himself by saying he really should have won that Emmy, which proved Clinton’s point for her.
Public reception of the debate was mixed. Student body President Tanasia Morton said, “I was happy to see more debating about policy instead of personal character,”
Sanyu Lukwago, political science major, disagreed, stating that the debate was “hysterical, comical; it was a caricature of our democracy.” Perhaps it was the presentation of the debate at Eastern Michigan University, where the big screen in the Student Center’s auditorium blew up the length and width of the two candidate’s faces to ridiculous sizes.
Nevertheless, very little people in the United States disagree on feeling relieved that the third debate has passed as the nation takes one collective step closer toward ending this painful debacle.