WASHINGTON – In their third and final debate before Election Day, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump clashed in an often substantive, issue-oriented forum that showcased the presidential candidates’ positions on immigration, the Supreme Court, foreign policy, gun control and more.
During the debate Wednesday night in Las Vegas, Trump took aim at Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state during the administration of President Barack Obama and criticized her comments contained in emails released by WikiLeaks that suggested she favors “open borders.” At the same time, Clinton zeroed in on Trump’s use of Chinese steel to build his hotels, despite his criticism of existing trade deals, and decried his recent suggestions that the U.S. electoral system is “rigged.”
Asked by moderator Chris Wallace of FOX News if he would accept the outcome of the Nov. 8 election if he loses, Trump demurred.
“I will look at it at the time – I’m not saying anything right now,” Trump said, before charging that the media is corrupt and “millions” of voters are registered to vote who are ineligible to do so.
Clinton called Trump’s comments “horrifying.”
“Every time Donald thinks things are going against him he concludes whatever it is, is rigged,” Clinton said. “He is denigrating, he is talking down our democracy.”
Two prominent New Mexico political pundits – Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff and University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson – told the Journal Wednesday night’s debate had more discussion of traditional presidential issues than the candidates’ previous matchups. Atkeson said Trump was more focused than in previous debates but missed opportunities to press Clinton on policy weaknesses because he “gets so caught up in the personal” disagreements with his Democratic rival. Sanderoff described Clinton as “focused and forceful” and said both candidates put in their best debate performances of the campaign.
Although the debate was more substantive than previous contests, it wasn’t without personal attacks. Trump called Clinton a “nasty woman,” while the Democrat panned him as “unfit” to be commander in chief.
On immigration, Trump reiterated his pledge to build a wall along the Mexican border and said Clinton wants to give illegal immigrants amnesty, which he described as “a disaster and very, very unfair to many people who have been waiting in line for many years.”
“I want to build the wall,” Trump said. “We have some bad hombres here and we’re going to get them out.”
Clinton recalled sadly meeting a young girl whose parents had been deported, and said rounding up some 11 million illegal immigrants would tear at the nation’s fabric.
“I don’t want to see the deportation force that Donald has talked about in action in our country,” she said. “I think that is an idea that is not in keeping with our nation and it’s an idea that would rip our country apart.”
Trump, a New York businessman and first-time political candidate, vowed to appoint Supreme Court justices who would vote to repeal the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion, and said he would protect Americans’ right to bear arms. Trump did not dispute Wallace’s characterization that he favors relaxing curbs on so-called assault weapons and other firearms.
Meanwhile, Clinton vowed to “defend Planned Parenthood” – one of the nation’s largest abortion providers – and said while she supports gun rights, she also backs “reasonable regulation,” including comprehensive background checks and closing the gun-show loophole.
In one of the most heated exchanges, Clinton charged that Russian President Vladimir Putin was backing Trump because “he’d rather have a puppet as president of the United States.”
Trump denied any relationship with Putin – saying he’d “never met” him, adding that he would condemn any foreign interference in the election. He also said if he had a better relationship with Putin than Obama or Clinton “that would be good.” But Trump notably declined to back the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia was involved in the hacking of Democratic organizations. The Clinton campaign has said the FBI also is investigating Russia’s involvement in the hacking of a top adviser’s emails.
Clashing on trade, Trump said Clinton had misrepresented her position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, noting that she had originally called it the “gold standard” of trade agreements. Clinton shot back that once the deal was finished, it didn’t meet her standards.
“I’m against it now. I’ll be against after the election. I’ll be against it when I’m president,” she said.
Both were asked if they would consider tax increases or benefit cuts to support Social Security and Medicare programs. Trump said he would cut taxes and repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, but he did not detail any plans for Social Security or other entitlement programs.
Clinton said she would put more money in the Social Security trust fund through increasing taxes on the wealthy and other methods and promised not to cut benefits. She also argued that the Affordable Care Act has extended the solvency of Medicare and said she would work to bring costs down.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.