The third presidential debate had the elements of a classic Hollywood western. A robber-baron, Donald Trump, tries to takeover the town; the inhabitants turn, incongruously, to the local "schoolmarm," Hillary Clinton. They meet in an epic "battle" and the good woman forces the bad guy into mistake after mistake. At the end, Hillary walked into the audience, smiling, while Trump remained on stage, petrified.
As she'd done in the first debate, Clinton's strategy was to needle Trump and force him to make errors. During the discussion on immigration, Clinton said: "[Donald] used undocumented labor to build the Trump Tower. He underpaid undocumented workers, and when they complained, he basically said what a lot of employers do: 'You complain, I'll get you deported.'" Trump failed to respond.
Clinton rattled Trump during an exchange of Russian hacking: "Will Donald Trump admit and condemn that the Russians are doing this and make it clear that he will not have the help of Putin in in this election, that he rejects Russian espionage against Americans, which he actually encouraged in the past?" Trump equivocated, mumbling Putin "has no respect" for Hillary. She replied, "That's because he'd rather have a puppet as president of the United States."
With the puppet comment, Hillary got under Trump's skin and he got angry. And sloppy.
Trump's defense of his economic plan was incoherent. Clinton responded, "Let me translate that..." She noted Trump's praise of the Chinese economy, adding, "One of the biggest problems we have with China is the illegal dumping of steel and aluminum into our markets... In fact, the Trump Hotel right here in Las Vegas was made with Chinese steel. So [Donald] goes around with crocodile tears about how terrible it is, but he has given jobs to Chinese steelworkers, not American steelworkers."
Instead of responding, Trump asked a question: What had Clinton accomplished in her thirty years as a public service? Clinton pounced: "You know, back in the 1970s, I worked for the Children's Defense Fund. And I was taking on discrimination against African-American kids in schools. [Donald] was getting sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination in his apartment buildings. In the 1980s, I was working to reform the schools in Arkansas. He was borrowing $14 million from his father to start his businesses. In the 1990s, I went to Beijing and I said women's rights are human rights. He insulted a former Miss Universe, Alicia Machado... And on the day when I was in the Situation Room, monitoring the raid that brought Osama bin Laden to justice, [Donald] was hosting the 'Celebrity Apprentice.'"
By this point, Trump was visibly angry. When asked about allegations of groping women, Trump stammered, "Those stores have been largely debunked... I believe it was her campaign that did it."
Clinton replied: "Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger. He goes after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don't think there is a woman anywhere who doesn't know what that feels like. So we now know what Donald thinks and what he says and how he acts toward women."
Trump shouted, "Nobody has more respect for women than I do." The audience laughed at him.
Trump said, "[Hillary] should never have been allowed to run for the presidency based on what she did with e-mails and so many other things."
The moderator asked Trump, "There is a tradition in this country -- in fact, one of the prides of this country -- is the peaceful transition of power and that no matter how hard-fought a campaign is, that at the end of the campaign that the loser concedes to the winner... Are you saying you're not prepared now to commit to that principle?" Trump responded, "I will tell you at the time. I'll keep you in suspense. OK?"
Clinton responded: "That's horrifying. You know, every time Donald thinks things are not going in his direction, he claims whatever it is, is rigged against him.The FBI conducted a year-long investigation into my e-mails. They concluded there was no case; he said the FBI was rigged... He lost the Wisconsin primary. He said the Republican primary was rigged against him. Then Trump University gets sued for fraud and racketeering; he claims the court system and the federal judge is rigged against him. There was even a time when he didn't get an Emmy for his TV program three years in a row and he started tweeting that the Emmys were rigged against him."
By this point in the debate, Trump was visibly angry. His explanation of his plan for Iraq, after Mosul falls, was incoherent. He began to interrupt Clinton with, "Wrong."
The concluding debate segment concerned the national debt. Trump was asked to respond to experts who say his economic plan will increase the debt "to 105 percent of GDP over the next 10 years." Trump avoided the entire question.
The moderator asked Trump what he would do to save Medicare and Social Security. Again, Trump did not answer the question but instead attacked Obamacare.
Clinton responded: "I am on record as saying that we need to put more money into the Social Security Trust Fund. That's part of my commitment to raise taxes on the wealthy. My Social Security payroll contribution will go up, as will Donald's, assuming he can't figure out how to get out of it."
Trump lashed out, "Such a nasty woman."
What most will remember about this debate is Trump's failure to commit to support the outcome of the election: "I will tell you at the time. I'll keep you in suspense. OK?"
But what the debate proved is that Hillary Clinton is tougher than Donald Trump. The robber-baron tried to take over the town and the schoolmarm smacked him down.