As a condensed version of all three presidential debates — with dozens of familiar themes and attacks repeated over 90 minutes — the final edition between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump brought pivoting and scrambling from both.
Trump reiterated his shrillest warnings and attacks about the state of the nation and his opponent; Clinton reacted in part by counterattack, in part by responding close to the point.
At one point, Clinton defended her leaked comments favoring open borders and a common market, made in a high-paid speech, by saying she was referring to energy policy.
But she quickly turned to say that via WikiLeaks, “the Russian government engaged in espionage against Americans” in a bid to bolster Trump because Vladimir Putin “would rather have a puppet.”
“You’re the puppet,” he shot back.
“That was a great pivot off open borders,” Trump sniped, probably scoring a point or two. And the clashes escalated.
Trump seemed a bit wary when moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News pressed him on his pre-emptive claims of a “rigged” election by pointing out that his running mate Mike Pence and daughter Ivanka Trump would accept the results as valid.
“I will look at it at the time,” Trump said. “I will tell you at the time. I will keep you in suspense.”
He complained anew about news media coverage, and added the twist that Clinton “shouldn’t be allowed to run. She’s guilty of a very very serious crime” and “just in that respect, I say it’s rigged.”
As Clinton did at other points, she gave a tightly organized, clearly prepared indictment of his behavior.
Her thesis was simple. Whenever Trump thinks things are going against him, he claims a fix. For example: the Republican primary in Iowa; the Trump University fraud case, and even the Emmy awards.
She accused him of “talking down our democracy.” He called her a “nasty woman.”
And so the three-pack of debates ended as they started — and with no handshake at the end, no saccharine conclusion. On they go to Nov. 8, with the die for the most part cast.