Republican Donald Trump took his tumbling popularity into Wednesday’s final presidential debate needing to score some big points against Democrat Hillary Clinton who, despite Trump’s recent scandals, maintains only a single-digit lead in national polls.
Trump’s decline in the polls began over a week ago after a video was leaked in which he made lewd comments before a 2005 TV appearance about the power of celebrities like himself to grope and kiss women without their consent. Trump responded by saying he will no longer shackled by those who have urged him to transform his shoot-from-the-lip campaign style to a more presidential tenor.
Meanwhile, Clinton is fighting her own high disapproval ratings and more disclosures about her use of a personal email server to handle sensitive material as secretary of state. She has been unable to shut Trump down in national polls or close off his narrow path to a victory in the Electoral College despite accusations of sexual harassment by several women.
The 90-minute debate at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas will be moderated by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, without a break. Wallace will question the candidates on the national debt, tax policy and entitlements in the tax code, immigration, economic policies, their Supreme Court appointments, international issues including the Syrian civil war and refugee crisis, and will close with a discussion on the candidates’ fitness to be president.
Appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court
For the second time, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton refused to shake hands Wednesday to open a presidential debate and then charged into the latest no-holds-barred clash.
The squared off first about how they would shape the U.S. Supreme Court over the next quarter century through two or three appointments.
Clinton called it “the central issue” of the presidential race. She said the Supreme Court can’t stand on the side of the “powerful and the wealthy,” but for women’s rights, gay, lesbian and transgender rights; and against the Citizens United decision that allowed corporations greater latitude in spending in political campaigns.
“The Supreme Court is what it’s all about,” Trump said. “We need a Supreme Court which will uphold the Second Amendment, which is under siege,” he said of the right to bear arms.
He said his justices will be “pro-life,” and will oppose abortion rights, and will have a “conservative bent.”
Clinton was pressed on her view on guns and said she supports the Constitutional right to own guns, but with “comprehensive background checks.” She said she would close a loophole that allows sales at gun shows with less scrutiny, greater safety measures and sees “no conflict between saving people’s lives and protecting the Second Amendment.”
Trump said she was “very angry” about a gun rights court decision that sought to force greater safety measures on gun owners.
“I was upset, because dozens of toddlers injure themselves and even kill people with guns,” she said. She said 33,000 lives are lost to guns each year.
Trump said tough gun laws _ as in Chicago _ don’t create safer environment.
“We are going to appoint justices that will feel very strongly about the Second Amendment, that will not do damage to the Second Amendment,” he said.
Trump said he will appoint “pro-life justices” and that would allow states to determine their abortion laws. “It will go back to the states,” he said.
“I strongly support Roe v. Wade,” Clinton said. She said many states are already putting “so many restrictions” on women’s access to abortion, including de-funding Planned Parenthood.
“We have come too far to have that turned back now,” she said. “In fact he said women should be punished” for abortion.
“I do not think the United States government should be stepping in and making those personal decision” even late in pregnancies, Clinton said.
Trump said late-term abortions that Clinton supports is like “ripping” a baby “right out of the womb.”
“Nobody has business doing that....one or two or three days before birth,” he said.
Clinton said those terms are “scare rhetoric [that is] just unfortunate.”
Immigration and deportation
Trump said we need strong borders, citing four mothers in the audience whose children were killed trying to come into the country illegally. He said the association of border patrol agents has endorsed him. He said the drugs coming across the border are “poisoning our youth.”
“I want to build the wall. I want the wall,” Trump said, adding that we need the drug lords to “get out.”
Trump said Clinton wants to give amnesty to undocumented immigrants, which he called unfair to legal immigrants.
“We have no country if we have no borders,” he said, saying Clinton would have open borders, a position Clinton rejects.
Trump said heroin is coming across the borders: “Right now we are getting the drugs, they are getting the cash.”
He said he would deport what could be millions of undocumented immigrants.
“We have some bad hombres here and we are going to get them out,” he said.
Clinton said there are children of illegal immigrants who are born in the U.S. and deportation would split those families apart.
“I don’t want to rip families apart,” Clinton said. “I don’t want to see the deportation force that Donald wants.”
“It’s an idea that is not in keeping with our country, it is an idea that would rip apart our country.”
Clinton said that when Trump met with the Mexican president, he never brought up the proposed wall.
“He choked, then got into a Twitter war,” Clinton said.
Trump said Clinton, as New York’s junior senator, said she was once in favor of a wall. Clinton said she favored comprehensive border security, not a wall.
“Donald knows a lot about this, he used undocumented workers to build the Trump Tower,” she said, then threatened to deport them if they complained.
“We either have a border or we don’t,” he said. “We have millions of people who did it the right way … very unfair for someone to run across the border.”
He said President Barack Obama has deported millions of immigrants with a similar plan, a view Obama has rejected.
Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News hit Clinton with a WikiLeaks email that said Clinton wanted “open borders.”
Clinton said she was referring to energy, an electric grid that crosses borders.
“What’s really important with WikiLeaks is that he Russian government has engaged in espionage against Americans,” Clinton said. “This has come from … Putin himself … to influence our election.”
“I think the most important question of this evening is… does he reject Russian espionage?” she said.
“That was a great pivot from the question of open borders,” Trump shot back. “People are going to be pouring in over the borders … we are going to stop radical Islamic terrorism in this country.
Trump said he didn’t know Putin. “He has no respect for her, he has no respect for our president,” he said.
Clinton said Trump encouraged espionage against the U.S. in cyber attacks and is “willing to spout the Putin line.” She said Putin “has a very clear favorite in this race” and said it meant a foreign country was trying to influence the election.
Trump said “she has no idea” who was behind the cyber-attacks.
“He’d rather believe Vladimir Putin,” she charged.
“She doesn’t like Putin because he has out-smarted her,” Trump said as both candidates tried to talk over each other. “I don’t know Putin… he’s not my best friend,” but he said it would be good for the United States to have a better relationship with Russia.
“She has been outsmarted and outplayed worse than anyone I have seen in government,” Trump said of Clinton.
Clinton said there is only four minutes between a president’s order to use nuclear weapons and launches. She said it is “terrifying” that Trump would have that authority and is “cavalier” about using nuclear weapons.
“She has proven she is a liar,” Trump said.
“Well, I’m just quoting you,” she said.
Clinton said her plan has been “analyzed by independent experts” and could produce millions of jobs while Trump’s plan would result in job loss that was “trickle-down economics on steroids” that would lead to another recession.
“When the middle class thrives, America thrives,” she said, pushing clean energy to create jobs and combat climate change. She also supports raising the minimum wage to bring people out of poverty and would push for equal pay for women.
She said there would be no tuition cost for public college under her plan.
“Her tax plan is a disaster … a massive, massive tax increase,” he said. He said her college tuition plan would make all Americans pay for more in taxes.
He said he would renegotiate trade deals to “start the engine rolling again because right now, our country is dying.”
Trump named battleground states of Ohio, Michigan and Florida and even upstate New York that need trade deals to be renegotiated to bring jobs back form overseas.
“We are going to start the engine rolling again because our nation is dying,” Trump said.
“I have repeated said I will not raise taxes for anyone making $250,000 or less,” Clintons said. He cited the prosperity during the tenure of her husband, President Bill Clinton, in which taxes were used to “invest” in people to boost the economy.
Clinton, when pressed by Wallace, she said her plan uses elements of President Obama’s economic policy. Wallace noted national economic growth is lower than in decades.
“We’re standing, but we are not yet running,” she said. She said she wants to invest in the middle class through education rather than give tax breaks to wealthy employers.
Wallace noted economists say Trump’s economic plan “just doesn’t add up.”
Trump said India is growing at 8 percent and China is growing at 6 percent, while the U.S. is “at 1 percent and going down.”
He said the jobs report is so bad “I should win the election.”
He decried imports of furniture and other goods from other countries.
Trump said “the one thing” Clinton has over him is experience” but he called it “bad experience.”
Clinton smiled and quietly laughed as Trump criticized her economic plan and her support of trade deals Trump said have cost jobs.
“There is only one of us here who has shipped jobs to Mexico, that’s Donald,” Clinton said. “Donald has bought Chinese steel and aluminium .. so he goes around with crocodile tears … but he has given jobs to Chinese steel workers.”
“She’s been doing this for 30 years, why the hell haven’t you done it,” Trump said. “You have experience, but it’s bad experience.”
Trump blamed trade deals that forced him, as a businessman, to buy steel and resources from other countries.
“If you become president this country is going to be in some mess,” Trump said.
Clinton then said her experience included representing poor children, supported women’s rights, and was in the situation room while Osama bin Laden was killed, while Trump was being sued for workers rights’ abuses and hosting a reality TV show, and living off his millionaire father’s money.
Trump said the country would be far better off if it was run as he ran his busineses.
“She gave us ISIS,” he said referring to the terror group that grew after the Iraq war.
Fitness to be president
Asked about the nine women who have claimed Trump groped or kissed them without their consent, Trump said the stories “have been largely debunked” and said they were manufactured by Clinton’s campaign.
“I didn’t know any of these women,” he said, then cited recent disclosures that Democratic operatives had tried to incite violence at Trump rallies.
“It was lies and it was all fiction,” he said of the accusation of sexual assault.
Clinton said at rallies Trump said he would not have done what he was accused of because they were not attractive enough — which Trump denied.
“Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger,” she said.
“That’s who Donald is.”
Trump said, “Nobody has more respect for women than I do.”
Clinton said Trump represented a “dangerous” vision of America, that he has created divisiveness in the country that runs contrary to “who we are.”
Asked by Wallace about leaked emails that donors to the Clinton foundation got special treatment, Clinton said the foundation is a “world-renowned charity.” She said the foundation made it possible for 11 million people to afford HIV treatment.
She said there is no evidence of “pay to play.”
Trump said the foundation took donations from countries who mistreat women.
“It’s a criminal enterprise,” Trump interjected.
Clinton said: “I would be happy to compare what we do to what is done with the Trump Foundation.” She noted the Trump Foundation bought a 6-foot portrait of
Trump. “Who does that?” she asked.
Trump said “100 percent” of the Trump Foundation goes to charity.
Wallace notes some of the spending went to pay a settlement for a lawsuit against Trump’s Florida resort.
“There is no way to know this because he hasn’t released his taxes,” Clinton said. “He has not paid a penny in federal income tax.”
“We have undocumented immigrants in this country paying more taxes than a billionaire,” she said.
Trump defended his deductions, saying “most of donors have done the same thing I have done…. You should have changed the law.” He said she won’t change the law because it benefits her Wall Street donors and special interests.
Trump’s claim of a rigged election
Trump refused to take back his claim that the presidential election is “rigged,” even though his vice presidential running mate Mike Pence and other Republicans defend the electoral process.
“I will look at it at the time,” he said of whether he would accept the outcome of the election. “First of all, the media is so corrupt … it’s so dishonest and it poised the minds of the voters.”
“I will tell you at the time I will keep you in suspense,” he said.
“That’s horrifying,” Clinton said, adding that Trump always claims a system is rigged if he loses. She even noted he criticized the Emmy Awards for failing to win an award for his reality TV show.
“I should have gotten it,” he said.
“It’s funny, but it’s really troubling,” she said. “He is denigrating, he is talking down our democracy.”
Issues abroad, ISIS, the Syrian civil war
Turning to foreign war zones, the candidates were asked if they would use U.S. troops to combat ISIS, the terror group.
“I will not support putting American soldiers into Iraq as an occupying force,” she said. “Syria will remain a hotbed of terrorism as long as the civil war aided and abetted by the Russians continues.”
She said she would support a no-fly zone in Syria, despite the threat by Russia.
Trump blamed Clinton and Obama for losing hard-fought territory in Iraq.
“Douglas MacArthur, George Patton spinning in their graves when they see the stupidity of our country,” he said, blaming Clinton and Obama.
Clinton said Trump was for the invasion of Iraq, prompting Trump to say “Wrong,” several times.
“You shouldn’t have been in Iraq, but you voted for it,” Trump said.
“Once again, Donald is implying he wasn’t in favor of the invasion Iraq,” she said.
“Wrong,” he interjected.
“He has not told the truth about that position,” she said, noting she voted for the war and later said it was a mistake. She said she was “going after Osama bin Laden while you were doing ‘Celebrity Apprentice.’”
They then spoke over each other.
“He is unfit,” she said.
“No, she is unfit,” Trump countered.
“You are the most dangerous person to run for country in the modern history of America,” Clinton told Trump, echoing what has been said by her former Democratic primary opponent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Wallace said Trump has made several untruthful statements about foreign affairs involving Aleppo, the Syrian hot spot, which Trump once said had fallen. It has not.
Trump said the Obama administration “doesn’t know who the rebels are” and that removing the Assad administration in Syria could give rise to an even more dangerous despot.
“Lots of luck, Hillary, thanks a lot of doing a great job!” Trump said sarcastically, as Clinton laughed at his comment.
“I think we could strike a deal” with Russians for a no-fly zone to aid refugees, she said in defending her plan for a no-fly zone over Syria.
Trump, citing the recent ceasefire, said Russia used to time to claim territory. “Our country is so outplayed by Putin and Assad...no one can believe how stupid our leadership is.”
“I will defeat ISIS,” she said.
“It’s so ridiculous,” Trump said, blaming the rise of ISIS to her poor foreign policy as secretary of state.
The national debt
The moderator accused each candidate of ignoring the nation debt and having plans to incur more debt.
Trump said his policies will heat up the economy to create more wealth and reduce the national debt.
“We have people who are political hacks making these (trade) deals,” he said.
“When I hear Donald talk like that and her his slogan of ‘Make America Great Again’ I wonder when he thought America was great,” she said. “He has been criticizing our country for decades.”
She said he attacked Republican President Ronald Reagan for poor trade deals and economic policies, too. “We are going task the wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share.. we have to get back to rebuilding the middle class. That’s where growth will come from.”
He said that because he “got money from his Dad” he sees the economy differently.
“We’ve heard that,” Trump said dismissively.
Clinton said, “I pay for everything I am proposing. I do not add a penny to the national debt....we are going to ask the wealthy and the corporations to pay their fair share.”
Trump said he would repeal Obamacare. “Bad health care, at the most expensive price.”
Trump said he would cut taxes and grow the economy to better fund Medicare and Social Security and save the entitlement programs. He also said repealing Obamacare will save money that can be used to boost Medicare.
“She wants to keep Obamacare and wants to make it even worse and it can’t get any worse,” he said.
Clinton said she would use more taxes on the wealthy _ “including Donald unless he finds a way to get out of it” – to save Medicare and Social Security without cutting benefits.
Trump interjected that she was “nasty.”
The moderator asked the candidates to make impromptu closing statements, when no time was allotted for it in the schedule.
“I am reaching out to all Americans … because we need everyone to make our country what it ought to be, to be fairer for everyone,” she said. “I will stand up for families, against corporations.”
“She’s raising the money from the people she wants to control, it doesn’t work,” Trump retorted. He said he would fix a “depleted military” and serve veterans and police.
“Our inner cities are a disaster,” he said. “I will do more for African Americans and Latinos that she could do in 10 lifetimes.”
“We can make America great again and we have to start now,” he said. “We can’t have four more years of Obama that’s what you will get with her.”
They didn’t shake hands after the debate.