The State asked two political scientists and a partisan for their assessment of Wednesday’s presidential debate as Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump faced off for the third and final time.
Here’s what Winthrop University’s Scott Huffmon, the College of Charleston’s Jordan Ragusa, and Republican consultant Chip Felkel of Greenville said:
Who won and why?
Felkel: “Chris Wallace, who did a pretty good job as moderator. Trump got off track too much again. Clinton appeared on the defensive at times and referred to notes too much.”
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Huffmon: “Clinton won by sticking closer to policy and not being drawn into losing her temper. I don't even recall her using the term ‘lie’ or ‘liar,’ which she could have been goaded into a few times. Trump did a great job early on of not interrupting and staying calm. Unfortunately for him, that didn't last. He devolved into his usual interruptions and insults ("such a nasty woman") — although she got a few insulting interjections of her own in this time as well. She gave details (whether you think her plans will work or not) whereas he gave platitudes.”
Ragusa: “I can’t believe I’m about to write this, but that was the most substantive debate of the three. I think the American people won.”
Best moment or line
Felkel: “The introductions. After that, both played to their bases and did little to expand it.”
Huffmon: “Clinton: Putin ‘would rather have a puppet.’ Trump: ‘You're the puppet!’ Trump: ‘This is just another lie.’ Clinton: ‘I'm just quoting you.’ ”
Ragusa: “(W)hen Clinton pivoted from a tough question about Wikileaks and transitioned to the issue of Russian influence in our elections. It put Trump on the defensive and seemed to rattle him. ... (H)e was doing very well until that point.”
Worst moment or line
Felkel: “Trump’s ‘wait and see’ comment on whether he will accept the outcome of the election.”
Huffmon: “Trump describing abortion as ‘ripping the baby out’ of the mother. Mostly Trump, but both sniping while the other is talking.”
Ragusa: “Trump hit Clinton on her experience, and she responded by listing off her signature accomplishments. Trump’s response was, essentially, ‘I made a lot of money.’ I don’t think that resonates with most Americans.”
Did Clinton do what she needed to do?
Felkel: “Yes. Clinton was able to get her experience in government out there and to effectively bait him enough to illustrate the ‘temperament’ issue.”
Huffmon: “Mostly. She wasn't a standout on substance, but she still won on substance because Trump offered so few policy details and just accusations of Obama's, Clinton's, and the ‘country's’ stupidity. She didn't get goaded into a major gaffe and pressed the points that would reinforce many female voters’ discomfort with Trump.”
Ragusa: “Because of her superior performance in the first and second debates, coupled with her lead in most national polls, Clinton needed to make a layup in the third debate. She did that.”
Did Trump do what he needed to do?
Felkel: “No. He got off track, continued to ramble and was determined to get his jabs in even if it meant going back to a previous question. He needed to keep his presidential face on. He did not. He needed to stay on point, to show a wider range and command of issues. While he did better, the hole he has dug is a deep one. He needed a grand slam, and at best he got a double.”
Huffmon: “No. He did nothing to change the trajectory of the election. He let Clinton bait him, and he didn't press her on issues she dodged (pay-to-play with the Clinton Foundation, accusations of Democratic operatives inciting violence at Trump rallies).”
Ragusa: “(T)he answer is ‘not applicable’ for Trump. What he needed to do is to completely change the tone and direction of the race. Although this was Trump’s best debate, I don’t think it was possible to accomplish that goal.”