Trump, Clinton, Wallace: Winners and losers from the final presidential debate

Since Hollywood is revisiting Bill Murray movies (if you’re lucky, you missed the “Ghostbusters” reboot), why not another run at “Groundhog Day”?

With this plot twist: instead of a weatherman trapped in Punxsutawney, it’s some unfortunate soul stuck in Trump Tower and charged with debate prep.

With every day the same: advise Donald Trump to stick to the economy, wrong-track America and a corrupt and compromised political system as embodied by Hillary Clinton – without making it overly snide, disparaging or unwarranted.

Only, each and every time, Trump fails to deliver the goods.

Anyone who was three credits shy of their college degree and took one last course pass/fail recognized Clinton’s approach in Las Vegas: do as little as possible to avoid flunking.

Wednesday’s presidential debate in Las Vegas: need you ask?

Here are some observations about the final live, nationally televised encounter between Clinton and Trump.

Third Time Wasn’t The Charm. Thrice now, Trump has had 90 minutes to make his argument for his brand of change over Democratic status quo, with tens of millions of voters tuned in.

Thrice now, he’s failed to seal the deal.

I base this on one standard: sound bites. Trump didn’t generate positive ones about his vision. To the extent the debate is rehashed over the next few days, the video will be of Trump refusing to say he’ll accept the election’s results if he’s on the losing end, or calling Clinton a “nasty woman”.

Consider the findings from Tuesday’s Fox News Poll:

On the economy – the paramount issue in this election – Trump tops Clinton by six points. In 2012, Mitt Romney led President Obama by 9 points.

On foreign policy, Clinton has an 18-point lead. In 2012, Obama led by only 8 points.

Now, the number that speaks to why Trump trails in this contest: asked with candidate can change the country for the better, Clinton leads by three points.

Three months after the GOP national convention, Trump has failed to convert his outsider status to an advantage. If he goes on to lose the race, then that failure should be in the lead paragraph of his political obituary.

Medicated? Try Premeditated.  Anyone who was three credits shy of their college degree and took one last course pass/fail recognized Clinton’s approach: do as little as possible to avoid flunking.

The forced smile, rehearsed sound bites, eyes constantly looking down at her notepad to make sure she didn’t forget what she studied in debate prep? All the stuff of a candidate playing out the string.

About those eyes looking south: it’s the stuff of a pedestrian debater. Hillary’s only new twist tonight: repeatedly mentioning that she was serving the public when he was hosting “Celebrity Apprentice.”

The cynical Clinton calculation: she could get away with the same empty calories about adding jobs, fighting ISIS, the evils of Trumponomics and bringing together the nation for a group hug because she doesn’t fear her opponent exploiting her weakness.

Though she was clad in a white pant suit tonight, Clinton has a fondness for yellow attire bright yellow – a personality color associated with cheerfulness and creativity, plus a tendency to over-analyze and engage in methodical thinking.

That latter trait would be an understatement as far as Hillary Clinton goes. According to the WikiLeaks dispatches, she selected her running mate a year before she received the Democratic nomination. Her campaign mulled over no less than 85 campaign slogans last year.

Chris Wallace. The “Fox News Sunday” anchor led off with an adult question about the Supreme Court and interpreting the Constitution – and didn’t let up.

The directness was refreshing: was Trump okay with Russian meddling in elections; how does the $275 billion Clinton infrastructure proposal differ from Obama’s $800 billion lemon of a stimulus plan?

Fifty minutes into the debate came Wallace’s telling moment, when the dialogue shifted to temperament. Here, Wallace let each candidate have their two minutes; he didn’t step in mid-answer, as have previous moderators, which is what prompts the bias talk. When Clinton tried to sidestep his question about the Clinton Foundation, Wallace pulled her back on course – just as he pushed Trump on his foundation’s choices.

My only criticisms: Wallace didn’t bring up the horror that is the $20 trillion national debt until a few minutes remained in the debate; entitlement spending was relegated to the very end (how many viewers had switched to the Cubs-Dodgers game?).

The penultimate question perfectly captured this election: Trump didn’t have an answer as to how to safeguard Social Security and Medicare. Clinton wants to protect benefits – even enhance benefits – with no details on how she’ll pay for it.


Must We Suffer Again? What to make of the presidential debate process now that it’s (mercifully) concluded?

Every four years, it starts with the best of intentions. Yet, the end product disappoints.

In 2016, a troubled America didn’t get the policy dialogue it deserved. Too many times, the question of the moderator’s role clouded what should be a clean celebration of democracy.

This isn’t to suggest that the Commission on Presidential Debates should be put out to pasture, but I would like to suggest two reforms.

First, ditch the lone moderator and go back to how presidential debates worked from 1960-1988 – a moderator backed up by a panel of three or more journalists. Spreading the questioning might help with the bias question.

Second, lower the bar for who gets on the stage.

At preset, the Commission allows only candidates who are on the ballot in enough states to earn 270 electoral votes – as long as they’re polling at 15 percent or higher in a composite of national surveys. Why not lower the latter number to 10 percent and give the third-party candidates a fairer chance at prime-time exposure?

The good thing about pondering debate reforms for 2020 and beyond: it means this election’s end finally is in sight.