We can’t make out a lot, but three phrases are clear:
“Iran — policies”
It’s hard to say exactly what each of these notes refers to, but we can make a pretty educated guess, and it's likely the notes refer to one specific answer.
“If we are able to push ISIS out of Mosul and out of Iraq, will — would you be willing to put U.S. troops in there to prevent their return or something else?” moderator Chris Wallace, of Fox News, asked Trump at one point during the debate.
Trump’s answer pivoted to criticizing the Obama administration and basically saying that the U.S. told Islamic State militants what was coming ahead of time. From his answer:
TRUMP: Whatever happened to the element of surprise, okay? We announce we're going after Mosul. I have been reading about going after Mosul now for about — how long is it, Hillary, three months? These people have all left. They've all left.The element of surprise. Douglas MacArthur, George Patton spinning in their graves when they see the stupidity of our country. So we're now fighting for Mosul, that we had. All she had to do was stay there, and now we're going in to get it.
That’s probably where his “predictable” note comes from, too. Trump has been arguing for a while that the Obama administration made a mistake leaving Iraq and Afghanistan by “announcing” its plans to the world, and it fits right in with his line about MacArthur (whose name he invoked in a previous debate, too) and Patton, two World War II-era generals.
And the third one, “Iran — policies,” likely refers to the end of the same answer, when he once again pivots:
TRUMP: So we're now going to take Mosul. And do you know who's going to be the beneficiary? Iran. Oh, yeah, they're making — I mean, they are outsmarting — look, you're not there, you might be involved in that decision. But you were there when you took everybody out of Mosul and out of Iraq. You shouldn't have been in Iraq, but you did vote for it. You shouldn't have been in Iraq, but once you were in Iraq, you should have never left the way.WALLACE: Sir, your two minutes are up.TRUMP: The point is, the big winner is going to be Iran.
This is Trump’s attempt to say that Obama policies (which he is apparently linking to Clinton through her time as secretary of state) haven’t just been bad — they’ll lead to Iran coming out on top, too.
Trump was heavily criticized for his apparent lack of preparation before the first debate on Sept. 26, particularly for a lack of specifics in his policy proposals (a theme that has been constant since he entered the race in summer 2015). But in the second and third, he seemed more prepared. And a look at his notes shows he’s making an effort to connect policy decisions to real-world consequences.
The question is whether Wednesday’s performance and increased policy knowledge was enough to flip the script on his flailing election bid.