Republican Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton faced off in the third and final presidential debate on Oct. 19 at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada. This debate was somewhat less surreal and overtly combative than the previous outings, but no less nasty. Perhaps, like the rest of their nation and indeed, the entire world, the candidates are just very, very tired. What follows are 10 moments worth remembering:
1. “Hillary can say that’s okay, but it’s not okay with me.”
Early on, in a segment on the Supreme Court, moderator Chris Wallace asked Clinton about her vote against a ban on late-term abortion, pressing her to articulate how far she felt abortion should go. Clinton said cases that involve late pregnancy are difficult and heartbreaking, often involving grave risk to the mother’s health or devastating news about a baby’s condition. Then Trump stepped in to reiterate his own pro-life stance. “If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the ninth month, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby,” he said. “Hillary can say that’s okay, but it’s not okay with me.” He went on to repeat that lurid phrasing a couple more times, insisting that could be done until the day before birth.
2. “We have some bad hombres here.”
Introducing a segment on immigration, Wallace said no issue divides the two candidates like this one—but then he corrected himself: many, many issues divide them by, I don’t know, the width of several school buses lined up in formation for a monster truck to flatten. Clinton smiled and chortled at the cameras, while Trump—who seemed edgy and foul-tempered throughout the debate—scowled. When it was his turn to make a case for his immigration plan, Trump once again touted his signature wall, and said one of his first acts would be to “get all the drug lords, all of the bad ones” out of the country. Then he seemed to invent a new hat slogan right there on the fly: “We have some bad hombres here, and we’re gonna get ’em out.”
3. “We will be doing very much better with Mexico on trade deals, believe me.”
Then Clinton set a trap for Trump that was about as a subtle as a Looney Tunes bit involving a piano, a bit of frayed rope and an ominously enlarging shadow. “When it comes to the wall that Donald talks about building, he went to Mexico, he had a meeting with the Mexican president—didn’t even raise it. He choked,” she drawled. “And then got into a Twitter war because the Mexican president said, ‘We’re not paying for that wall.’ ” Donald Trump, bless his heart, is powerless to resist gnawing upon any tasty bait placed in front of him. “First of all, I had a very good meeting with the president of Mexico, very nice man,” he interjected. “We will be doing very much better with Mexico on trade deals, believe me. The NAFTA deal signed by her husband is one of the worst deals of any kind signed by any country. It’s a disaster.” It was practically Pavlovian.
4. “You’re the puppet.”
There was a weird segment that turned into a referendum on who Vladimir Putin liked, and about whom he had written nasty things on a bathroom wall somewhere in deepest Russia. Clinton argued Trump needed to acknowledge and disavow Russia’s hacking in an effort to influence the U.S. election. Trump said he didn’t know Putin, though the man had said some “nice things” about him. “Putin, from everything I see, has no respect for this—person,” he said of Clinton, pausing just long enough before the word “person” to make you wonder if that’s how he was going to complete the sentence. “Well, that’s because he’d rather have a puppet for president,” Clinton said drily. As it was obviously intended, this did not go over well. “No puppet. No puppet,” Trump barked over Clinton speaking. “You’re the puppet. You’re the puppet.” Someday, we will all gather our grandchildren around our aged knees and tell them about the night we watched as American politics literally slunk down to the level of “I know you are, but what am I?”
5. “Thank you, sir.”
In a segment on the economy, Wallace asked Clinton to defend her economic plan, given that it is similar to Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan, which has led to the slowest growth in GDP since 1949. Trump leaned into the microphone, smiled like Grumpy Cat rolling on Ecstasy, and purred, “Correct.” Wallace paused, emitted a incredulous little laugh, and said, “Thank you, sir” in a tone of voice that was less than sincerely grateful.
6. “I am happy to compare my 30 years of experience with your 30 years.”
At one point, Trump conceded that the one thing Clinton had on him was experience, but it was all “bad experience” and ineffective failure. “He raised the 30 years of experience, so let me just talk briefly about that,” she said. And then she ran down the list: in the 1970s, I was battling discrimination against black kids in schools while he was being sued for refusing to rent apartments to blacks; in the 1980s, I was reforming schools in Arkansas while he was borrowing sacks of money from his father; in the 1990s, I was speaking for women’s rights in Beijing while he was publicly calling Miss Universe fat. “And on the day when I was in the Situation Room monitoring the raid that brought Osama bin Laden to justice, he was hosting the Celebrity Apprentice,” she said. “I am happy to compare my 30 years of experience…with your 30 years, and I’ll let the American people make that decision.” Weirdly, she did not rip off her microphone, swing it around her head like a lasso and walk off the stage the moment she concluded that sentence.
7. “I didn’t even apologize to my wife.”
In a segment on fitness to lead—a uniquely relevant 2016 debate category I think we can all agree we hope never to have need for again at this level of public office—Wallace asked Trump about his treatment of women, given that nine women have now come forward to say that he’s not just harmless talk, as he has claimed. Trump dismissed the allegations wholesale, saying his accusers are either after fame or put up to it by Clinton’s campaign. “I didn’t even apologize to my wife, who’s sitting right here, because I didn’t do anything,” he said, gesturing to Melania Trump in the audience. As self-defence strategies go, proudly declaring he had not apologized to his wife for what must have been an enormously stressful and humiliating few weeks, regardless of the veracity of the allegations, is an interesting one.
8. “I will look at it at the time.”
Given his repeated claims at rallies that this election is rigged, Wallace asked Trump if he would echo his running-mate, Mike Pence, and daughter, Ivanka Trump, in pledging to unequivocally accept the results of the vote. “I will look at it at the time,” Trump said. “I’m not looking at anything now, I’ll look at it at the time.” And if that response wasn’t breathtaking enough, he went on to dispute his opponent’s legitimacy in even standing on that stage. “She shouldn’t not be allowed to run,” he said. “It’s crooked. She’s guilty of a very, very serious crime. She should not be allowed to run. And just in that respect, I say it’s rigged.” These comments suggests two truths: despite his bluster, Trump is very much starting to believe the polls that show him fading behind Clinton; and if he continues spouting this rhetoric to his followers, Nov. 9 and the days that follow could be terrifyingly ugly in the United States.
9. “What do you need, a signed document?”
In this debate, Trump repeatedly interjected odd, one-word editorial comments as Clinton or the moderator spoke, and at one point, he got into a bizarrely testy dispute with Wallace. The moderator asked him about some incorrect statements he had made in the last debate, including that Aleppo had fallen. “Have you seen it? Have you seen it?” Trump barked. Then he added, with the withering sarcasm of a teenager in a not particularly well-directed early-1990s movie, “Okay, it hasn’t fallen. Take a look at it.” When Wallace pressed on correcting Trump, the Republican candidate became more flustered and combative. “Aleppo is a disaster. It’s a humanitarian nightmare, but it has fallen—from any standpoint,” he said. “What do you need, a signed document?” It honestly sounded like Trump didn’t know what it meant for a city to “fall,” and he didn’t feel it was germane to the conversation anyway.
10. “Such a nasty woman.”
Near the end of the debate, in an otherwise tame (relatively—these being end-times and all) and dry exchange on the particulars of each candidate’s plans for Medicare and Social Security, Clinton tossed in a little passing dig. Her plan would mean her Social Security payroll contribution would go up, as would Trump’s, she said, so he couldn’t bail out of it—a reference to the fact that he has apparently avoided paying income tax for years. “Such a nasty woman,” Trump muttered into the microphone in response. Clinton didn’t even pause or react to this personal attack—she just kept spelling out policy details.
It’s become so true and obvious and repetitive that it barely even counts as a meaningful sentence anymore, but every time you think this campaign has gone as low as it can go, it manages to slither beneath its own belly once again. Nineteen days to go.