The third presidential debate was not likely a game-changer, but early polling indications suggest that it added momentum to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.
As Glenn Thrush put it at Politico:
CNN’s quickie post-debate poll gave Hillary Clinton a solid but decisive edge – 52 to 39 percent – not good for a guy who needed a big win, but not fatal either. The problem is one of narrative: Every single sentient being in the press watching the debate, and not currently on the payroll of the Trump Organization, knew instantly that his refusal to accept the results of the election (foreshadowed by a similar feint during the primaries) was the moment of the debate, and quite possibly the most important moment of the campaign.
At The Independent Feliks Garcia reports:
…The latest YouGov poll also declared Ms Clinton the clear winner on Wednesday night. Out of 1,503 registered voters who tuned into the debate, 49 per cent of participants said Ms Clinton came out on top. Thirty-nine per cent of voters argued that Mr Trump won the contest while 12 per cent claimed it was a tie…A large majority, 68 per cent, of those surveyed said that the candidates should “pledge to accept the result of the election” – which included 51 Republicans. Only 14 per cent opposed such a pledge, while 18 per cent did not know…When it came to temperament and fitness, Ms Clinton dominated. Sixty-nine per cent said that Ms Clinton demonstrated “excellent” or “good” knowledge of policies, as opposed to Mr Trump’s 40. Some 59 per cent of viewers surveyed also found Ms Clinton presidential, while Mr Trump only earned 40 on this point.
Former RNC Chair Michael Steele called Trump’s implicit threat to discredit the results of the election if he didn’t win was “a disqualifying moment” during Chris Matthews post-debate discussion at MSNBC. In his Washington Post column, Dana Milbank wrote, “The refusal to accept this bedrock principle of democracy was shocking, even for a candidate who had told audiences about a “rigged” and “stolen” election. And it should pour hot lava on any notion that Trump is going to revive his candidacy in the final 20 days.”
“Clinton’s core claim is that Trump is a dangerous man who lacks respect for American institutions and American democracy,” concludes E. J. Dionne, Jr. in his syndicated column. “On this central issue, Trump chose to prove Clinton right.” In her New York Times column, Gail Collins agreed, noting “O.K., two critical takeaways. Trump won’t promise to concede if he loses, and if he wins, he gets control of the nukes. These are the only things you need to think about for the next two and a half weeks.”
Worse, Trump has put his fellow Republicans in a bit of a trap, as Ed Kilgore notes at New York Magazine,
…In effect, Trump was saying he’d only accept the election results if he wins…This posture is not going to win over any swing voters, and we can only hope that a segment of his base is horrified as well. At a minimum, he has opened the door to a wholesale declaration of independence by down-ballot Republican candidates. Maybe Trump cannot win, but many of them can, and it’s hard to imagine they will refuse to accept the integrity of their own elections.
Trump blundered on other topics, as well. In one of Clinton’s strongest moments she eviscerated Trump’s history of demeaning women and adroitly used the opportunity to underscore her vision,
“He goes after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don’t think there is a woman anywhere that doesn’t know what that feels like. So we now know what Donald thinks and what he says and how he acts toward women. That’s who Donald is. I think it’s really up to all of us to demonstrate who we are and who our country is and to stand up and be very clear about what we expect from our next president, how we want to bring our country together, where we don’t want to have the kind of pitting of people one against the other, where instead we celebrate our diversity, we lift people up, and we make our country even greater.”
Considering all three debates as one long one, it is clear that Trump had almost no moments where he showed the maturity and measured judgement he needed to inspire confidence that he has a more compelling capacity for world leadership. If Trump’s gambit was to persuade the few remaining fence-sitters that he was more prepared, he failed miserably. If Clinton’s end goal was to show that she alone had the skill set and vision to be a credible President of the United States, she succeeeded impressively.
At Vox, Ezra Klein wrote,
The polling tells the story. As Nate Silver notes, on the eve of the first presidential debate, Clinton led by 1.5 points. Before the second, she was up by 5.6 points. Before the third, she was winning by 7.1 points. And now, writing after the third debate — a debate in which Trump said he would keep the nation “in suspense” about whether there would be a peaceful transition of power, bragged about not apologizing to his wife, and called Clinton “such a nasty woman” — it’s clear that Trump did himself no favors. Early polls also suggest Clinton won…And it’s not just the presidential race. Betting markets now predict Democrats will win the Senate. Polls have started showing Democrats in striking distance of the House. The GOP has collapsed into a mid-election civil war, with the party’s presidential nominee openly battling the speaker of the House.
The hope for Democrats is that Trump’s divisive messaging and the GOP’s civil war will damage prospects for Republican down-ballot candidates. This morning there is even more reason to believe that hope will become a reality.