I watched the final presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I tweeted, took notes, and picked winners and losers.
My choices are below!
* Hillary Clinton: This was the Democratic nominee's best debate performance. She finally figured out the right calibration of ignoring and engaging Trump. Given her considerable edge in the electoral map, Clinton didn't need a moment in this debate, she simply needed to survive. But she had a moment, anyway — with a stirring answer in response to Trump's comments about women and the allegations against him of groping nine different women. Clinton, borrowing from Michelle Obama's speech on the same subject, was deeply human and relatable in that moment. Throughout the rest of the debate, she did what we know she knows how to do well: She deftly dropped a series of opposition research hits and sprinkled in a series of attempts to goad Trump into mistakes. She came across as calm and composed in the face of his, at times, tough-to-watch interruptions. ("Such a nasty woman,” Trump said of Clinton as she was speaking toward the end of the debate.) Her performance wasn't perfect; she struggled to defend the Clinton Foundation, for example, but Trump managed to throw her an opening to talk about his own foundation's issues. All in all, Clinton won — a clean sweep of the three debates.
* Chris Wallace: Wallace was the best moderator of the four debates — three presidential, one vice presidential. Poised and confident, he sought to steer the conversation without dominating it. He allowed the candidates to debate issues back and forth but, when they veered off course and didn't answer his questions, he made sure to let them know about it. And, as was the case in other Fox-sponsored debates in the primary season, Wallace's questions were just top-notch. On immigration, on the women alleging that Trump groped them, on the Clinton Foundation, Wallace asked blunt questions that demanded straight answers.
* Vladimir Putin: The Russian leader had to be thrilled about the amount of airtime he and his country received in the debate. And Trump, while insisting that he and the Russian president are not, in fact, friends, repeatedly said that he knew for a fact that Putin had no respect for Clinton. Any airtime for Putin in a debate with tens of millions of Americans watching probably make him very, very happy.
* David Fahrenthold: The WaPo reporter who has broken every piece of news about the Trump Foundation didn't get mentioned by name during the debate but he was all over it. Clinton mentioned Fahrenthold's reporting about the six-foot portrait Trump bought of himself — with charity money. Wallace noted that Trump had used foundation money to pay off fines — another Fahrenthold scoop. This was the biggest night for Fahrenthold since he won the Ciquizza!!! (Side note: Make sure to read my conversation with Dave about how he happened onto the Trump Foundation story and how he continues to break big news on it.)
*Puppets: There hasn't been this much conversation about puppets in a presidential debate since, well, ever. Also, making “puppets” a winner allows me to post this GIF of Gob and Franklin Bluth:
* Donald Trump: Top to bottom, this was Trump's most consistent and best debate. But, it wasn't a good debate for him. Not at all. His signature moment — and the defining moment of the entire debate — came when he refused to say he would concede if the election results showed he had lost. Trump's I'll-just-wait-and-see answer was a total disaster and will be the only thing people are talking about coming out of the debate.
Trump's first 30 minutes were actually quite good. But, as has so often been the case in this campaign, Trump simply couldn't stick to his plan. As the debate wore on, he became more and more short-tempered and curt; it culminated with his sarcastic praise for Clinton regarding ISIS and his “such a nasty woman” interruption. Trump's task in this debate — to fundamentally rejigger its course — was always a bridge too far. But it's hard to see how he even made incremental progress toward that goal on Wednesday night.
* Down-ballot Republicans: For an hour or so, the likes of Pat Toomey (Pa.), Richard Burr (N.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) had to be, generally speaking, happy with Trump's performance. But then came the question of whether he would respect the election results if he lost and Trump's total debacle of an answer. It's hard for me to see how Republicans in close down-ballot races can afford to keep sticking by a candidate who has broken with centuries of tradition when it comes to the peaceful handover of power. And you can expect every single Republican — those in tough races and even those who aren't — to be asked tomorrow (and the day after that and the day after that) whether they agree with Trump's view on the rigged nature of the election. Not exactly a closing message any of them would choose.
* Calls for silence: In the 15 minutes before the debate started, there were roughly 487 warnings from people on stage that the audience needed to remain totally silent during the debate. This is, to be blunt, dumb. If you don't want people to cheer, boo or otherwise react, don't have an audience. Come on, man.