Now that the final debate is over, I'm ready to comment on this whole hot mess. It's been a painful thing to watch these debates. They've been unlike any other debates we've ever seen--the constant interruptions and talking over each other, candidates not shaking hands at the start and end, name-calling, etc. We've never had one candidate dominate all three debates before, either--Clinton has been the clear winner of every debate, while her predecessors have often performed better in one format or the other, and the winner is often determined by style over substance. In this election, Clinton had both. She remained calm and poised, even when Trump raised his voice and became agitated. She rose above his insults and name-calling, and came back at him with well-crafted responses that often used his own words against him to prove her points. She tried to stick to the issues, particularly during the first debate, before more pressing personal issues arose with more recent revelations.
Clinton has used the debates very strategically and masterfully--more than anything else in her campaign, her debate performances have demonstrated her political skills. She refers to a person to illustrate a point, as we've seen so many other candidates do (McCain's Joe the Plumber in 2008, David Cameron's '40-year-old black man' in Plymouth in 2010), but it's not just any old anecdote. It's an interview, press release, viral video and TV advertisement that are already filmed, edited and ready to launch. Her mention of Alicia Machado at the first debate was absolutely brilliant--his awful nicknames for her demonstrated both her opponent's misogynist attitudes towards women ('Miss Piggy') and his racist stereotyping of Latinas ('Miss Housekeeping'). It absolutely threw him and got under his skin--not only was he visibly uncomfortable (asking 'where did you hear this?') at the debate, but he subsequently spent a week tweeting about it, trying to harm Machado's reputation and discredit her. Instead, it reinforced the image of him as a bully--an image that was humorous during the GOP primaries when his target was "Lyin' Ted" or "Little Marco", but the bully image took on a much more sinister, more universally repugnant quality when his target became any woman who's ever struggled with her weight (i.e. 99.9% of women).
I think the final comments of each candidate at the third debate really do sum up this whole election campaign. They were asked to keep it positive, and Clinton, first to give her remarks, did keep it very positive:
I would like to say to everyone watching tonight that I’m reaching out to all Americans, Democrats, Republicans and Independents, because we need everybody to help make our country what it should be. To grow the economy, to make it fairer. To make it work for everyone. We need your talents, your skills, your commitment, your energy, your ambition.
You know, I’ve been privileged to see the presidency up close, and I know the awesome responsibility of protecting our country and the incredible opportunity of working to try to make life better for all of you. I have made the cause of children and families, really my life’s work — that’s what my mission will be in the presidency. I will stand up for families against powerful interests, against corporations. I will do everything I can to make sure that you have good jobs with rising incomes. That your kids have good educations from preschool through college. I hope you will give me a chance to serve as your president.
She doesn't mention Donald Trump at all. She starts by echoing Obama's 2008 election night promise--'even if you didn't vote for me, I will be your President, too.' It's a lovely concept and an attempt to heal the wounds inflicted by this divisive, crazy election cycle. The emphasis on children and families plays to her strengths as the first female candidate--women are expected to know what they're talking about when it comes to children/families, so it lends her credibility (obviously that's all problematic for gender reasons, but let's ignore that for the sake of political strategy). It's an appeal to the voters, putting the decision in their hands and empowering them--"I hope you will give me a chance to serve as your president"--hope, a chance, to serve.
Trump's comments took the opposite tactic: he stayed on the attack and kept his tone decidedly negative.
She’s raising the money from the people she wants to control. Doesn’t work that way. But when I started this campaign, I started it very strongly, it’s called Make America Great Again. We’re going to make America great. We have a depleted military. It has to be helped, it has to be fixed. We have the greatest people on earth on our military.
We don’t take care of our veterans. We take care of illegal immigrants, people who come into the country illegally, better than we take care of our vets. That can’t happen. Our policemen and women are disrespected. We need law and order, but we need justice too. Our inner cities are a disaster. You get shot walking to the store. They have no education, they have no jobs. I will do more for African Americans and Latinos than she can ever do in ten lifetimes.All she’s done is talk to the African Americans and to the Latinos. But they get the vote and then they come back and say ‘we’ll see you in four years.’
We are going to make America strong again and we are going to make America great again, and it has to start now. We cannot take four more years of Barack Obama, and that’s what you get when you get her.
He opens with an accusation, and it's not even particularly clear what he's accusing her of. He says he'll make America great, then criticizes the state of the military, veterans affairs, immigration, "inner cities" (Trumpspeak for areas where minorities live). He says a Clinton presidency would be four more years of Obama's policies as if that were a bad thing--his approval rating is currently at its second-term high, so I don't think the American people will have too much of a problem with that.
And finally, here's my official prediction. I've left Utah blank because I think McMullin genuinely could win, which means Utah's electoral votes go to neither Trump nor Clinton.