For any swing voters left in the U.S., the third presidential debate put the focus on the issues and highlighted the stark policy differences between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
All of that credit is due to Fox News moderator Chris Wallace — who led with substantive questions — and pressed both candidates hard (Mrs. Clinton on her paid speeches, Mr. Trump on the rigged election). Mr. Wallace had his facts down cold, and asked questions that led to more than the candidates’ prepared sound-bites. For that, Mr. Wallace is the clear winner of the night.
Mr. Trump, who needed to come out swinging in order to save his campaign, didn’t hit a home run. Mrs. Clinton, who couldn’t make an error, remained posed and in control. For those reasons, the trajectory of the race will probably remain unchanged.
Chris Wallace: A
The first question was on the Supreme Court — the most important issue in the election — as the next president may change the balance of the court for the next quarter century. Gun rights and the Heller case, along with Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood and partial birth abortion were discussed — which highlighted just how vast is the gap between the Republican and Democratic platforms on the issue. The second question looked at immigration. There was more policy spoken in the final debate’s first 30 minutes than the entirety of the first two debates combined.
Hillary Clinton: B
Although at times she sounds like an audio-tape on repeat, Mrs. Clinton stuck to her talking points and delivered them. She framed all of her answers to the Democratic fragments she needed to hit: African Americans, LGBT, women, and Hispanics and Latinos. It’s unimaginable her policies won’t add to the national debt, but alas, she promised the American people several times Wednesday night they wouldn’t. Although she refused to answer pay-to-play questions about the Clinton Foundation, she didn’t come off as rattled or defensive. Overall, Mrs. Clinton seemed smart, well-briefed and steady.
Donald Trump: C
Mr. Trump played for the Republican base in the first 30 minutes, solidly answering on his picks for the Supreme Court, defending the second-amendment, and hitting Mrs. Clinton on her stance on partial birth abortions. He was calm and less aggressive than in the previous debates, reassuring those wavering on his temperament. He hit Mrs. Clinton on the issues and made her defend her record.
However, the worst moment of the night came when Mr. Trump refused to comment whether he’d accept the results of the election, telling Mr. Wallace: “I’ll keep you in suspense.”
This allowed Mrs. Clinton a punchy comeback: “This is horrifying. Every time Donald thinks things aren’t going in his direction, he claims everything is rigged against him.”
This is what the headlines and the talking heads will be discussing on Thursday, erasing whatever gains Mr. Trump made earlier in the night.