What to expect from the final Presidential debate.

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It’s finally arrived, the final debate in this marathon Presidential campaign.

With Donald Trump having lost a lot of ground in the race to the White House, polling suggests that Hillary Clinton has a national lead of around six percent, Trump certainly has a lot to do in this debate.

Expect Trump to go on the attack from the beginning, in an attempt to make up some of this ground. It would be no surprise to see Trump continue his claims that the election is being rigged against him by the media. Given that this debate is being moderated by Chris Wallace from FOX News, it is perhaps less likely that Trump calls the moderation biased than he did in previous debates. However, Wallace is a registered Democrat (although he says that this is just so he can vote in the primaries) and he did say earlier this year that he felt the media weren’t hard enough on Donald Trump.Therefore, if Trump feels that he’s losing the momentum, don’t be overly surprised if he decides to claim that everyone is ganging up on him, as did in the first debate when he suggested that it was “three against one”, with Clinton, and moderators Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz all ganging up against him. A repeat of a similar scene would not be unexpected.

In addition, with the continual dumping of John Podesta’s hacked emails by Wikileaks, expect information gleaned from these to make up a large proportion of Trump’s attacks. The emails which suggested Clinton knew CNN debate question in advance during the Democratic Primary feed into his rigged election narrative. In addition, the revelation that the government of Qatar (who have a sketchy human rights record) had donated $1 million to the Clinton Foundation could prove slightly embarrassing to Clinton. Trump claims that these emails have been completely ignored by the media. He is wrong. The media have reported them, and in normal times they would be front page news. However, the recording of Trump’s derogatory remarks on the set of Access Hollywood in 2005, and other reports of sexual misconduct, have drowned out the stories about Clinton. This means that this final debate is the only chance Trump will have to confront Clinton about these allegations.

One thing notable about this debate, is that a full fifteen minute section will be devoted to the topic of immigration. It was surprising how little immigration was discussed during the previous two debates, and it was quite surprising that Trump didn’t look to steer the conversation towards one of his stronger topics. This debate will give Trump the opportunity to talk about one of his keynote policies: the wall on the US-Mexico border. Of course, this debate also gives an opportunity for this policy to be properly scrutinised. It seems pretty obvious that building a wall on the whole border is completely unrealistic. For a start, we’re talking about a full-blown wall, not just a fence. This means that the cost will be completely exorbitant, with it having been estimated that costs could rise at high at $25 billion. In addition, the wall would have to cover a border which is almost 1,900 miles long. Much of this land isn’t owned by the US Government, which would push the cost even higher. All in all, the policy of building a wall on the US-Mexico border is completely unrealistic. This perhaps explains Trump’s reluctance to bring it up in a debate, as he realises that it would be picked apart by Clinton and the moderators. Nonetheless, it seems likely that this debate will force him to discuss it. Whilst the issue will likely further energise his base, it seems unlikely to be one which will gain him any undecided voters. I mean, if you wanted a wall on the US-Mexico border, then surely you’d be supporting Trump already?

These undecided voters, are who Trump chiefly needs to target in this debate. With polling suggesting he is six points behind Clinton, and this being the final televised debate, he is rapidly running out of opportunities to appeal to undecided voters. This is where a debate strategy that involves continuous attacks on Clinton could fall flat. Undecided voters are tired of hearing about this. Instead, they want to hear about policy. With debate topics including: debt and entitlements, the economy, and foreign hot spots; both candidates have a chance to show off their policy ideas, in an attempt to woo some of these undecided voters. If Trump’s policy knowledge is as lacking as it was in the first debate, then he could well seriously struggle with this.

As well as appealing to swing voters, Trump needs to try and persuade the traditional GOP supporters, who are deserting him in droves, to vote for him in November. Polling currently suggests that traditionally safe Republican states such as Arizona, Georgia, Utah, and even Texas, are now considered toss-ups. It is the polling from Texas which will have most alarmed the Trump campaign. Although, there is a growing Hispanic population in Texas, it was still considered to be safe. Indeed, just one month ago Trump had a lead of eleven points in Texas, but this has now fallen to just four points, which is within the margin of error. Trump needs to be clear on his commitment to traditional Republican policies, otherwise he risks losing these kind of states. Given that he is already up against it in the swing states, losing perceived ‘safe’ states would be disastrous.

Equally, Trump has to ensure he appeals to those in the key swing states of Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, and Iowa. All in all, this means that Trump has to carry out an unenviable balancing act, to try and keep voters from many very different constituencies on side.

Given these competing priorities, it would be no surprise to simply see Trump fall back on his usual tactic of insulting the competition, but not actually offering much substance. He has already announced the slightly baffling news that he has invited President Obama’s half-brother, Malik Obama, to attend the debate. Malik has previously said that he supports Trump, but this invite feels just like a publicity stunt, much the same as when Trump invited Bill Clinton’s accusers to the last presidential debate. The stunt didn’t have an impact then, and it isn’t going to work now. Trump has a misguided knack of attacking people who aren’t on the ballot, at the last debate it was Bill Clinton, throughout the past week it has been Paul Ryan, and at this one it looks as though it will be Barack Obama. This isn’t going to do anything to help Trump in this election, and seems totally unnecessary.

Overall, this debate gives Trump one final chance to appeal to undecided voters in the swing states. This is the most important thing for his campaign, and is absolutely what he should be focusing on. However, things like inviting Malik Obama to the debate suggests that Trump is going to fall back on his strategy of getting the odd good soundbite. This hasn’t worked so far as a way of persuading swing voters to back him, therefore there seems no reason that it will work now. For populist actions like this, Trump can use his mass rallies to energise his base. There seems little point in using the final presidential debate to do what he can do in fifteen minutes at one of his mass rallies. Instead he must use his debate to put forward some substantial policy, or his chances in this election are numbered. The indications suggest that once again Trump will avoid actual policy, and as a result the Hillary Clinton campaign must be licking their lips, a result like this couldn’t be more perfect for them, as it further consolidates Clinton’s position as the only candidate in this race who has put forward any real policy.

With Clinton’s poll numbers now pretty good, all she has to do is turn up and perform as competently as she did in the first two debates. For Trump, he must now put forward some proper policy, or he has got no chance.

12 reasons why Trump can’t win.

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1. His unpopularity with minority voters:

Trump’s dismal support amongst minority voters has been well publicised.

Some polling has suggested that up to 80% of Hispanic voters disapprove of Trump. This was also a group which Mitt Romney struggled with in 2012, winning only 27% of Hispanic votes. The latest polling by Pew Researchsuggests that Trump has the support of just 19% of Hispanics, compared with 58% for Hillary Clinton. The significance of this is reflected in the prevalence of Hispanic voters in several swing states, most notably Florida, where Hispanics now make up 15.4% of the electorate; compared to 13.9% in 2012, when President Obama carried the state thanks to his backing amongst minority voters. Hispanic voters also pose a problem for Trump in Arizona. Arizona tends to be considered a safe Republican state, but the RealClearPolitics polling average gives Trump an advantage of just 0.7%, suggesting it definitely isn’t safe in this election. A high Hispanic turnout would certainly have the potential to swing the state in favour of Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s support amongst African-American voters is even worse. A September poll by ABC News and The Washington Post found that 93% of African-American voters favoured Clinton, with just 3% favouring Trump. In 2012, 93% of African-American voters voted for Obama, with 6% choosing Romney. Given that Romney lost significantly, this surely looks ominous for Trump.

2. His inability to unite the GOP:

We have seen over the past few days how much of the Republican Party doesn’t support Trump. Senior party figures like Mitt Romney, John Kasich, and Jeb! Bush had already withheld their support for Trump, but over the weekend the likes of John McCain and Kelly Ayotte rescinded their endorsements, and Leader of the House Paul Ryan said that he would no longer defend Trump. Now Trump has always effectively been running as an independent, and has therefore always been somewhat detached from the rest of the Republican Party. But, given that the Presidential Election is fought on a state-by-state basis rather than with a nationwide popular vote, the ability to be able to draw upon state party machinery is very important. Over the last few days, Trump has done his best to burn his bridges with Senior Republicans, and this will make it extremely hard for him to run an effective campaign, particularly in the latter stages of this election. Few of the Republicans who have disavowed Trump will vote for Clinton. Instead they will stay at home or, cast a useless vote for either Gary Johnson or Evan McMullin. Either way, it’s seriously bad news for Trump.

3. The Democrats Electoral College advantage:

The Presidential Election’s Electoral College system means that national polling can massively overstate the closeness of a presidential race. In 2012, Obama led Romney by an average of only around 0.5% for the last few months of the campaign. However, he ultimately won by 332 electoral votes to 206. There are eighteen states (plus D.C.) which have voted Democrat in every election since 1992, this almost guarantees Clinton 242 electoral college votes, just short of the 270 needed to win. This leaves Clinton only needing to win a couple of the swing states (and she currently leads in all of them) to win. On the other hand, Trump’s road to the White House is much more difficult. He would have to retain all of the states won by Romney in 2012, as well as winning traditional Democratic states like Michigan and Wisconsin to stand a chance. For the most popular of Republican candidates this would be difficult. For Trump, it is nigh on impossible.

4. Significance of the white working-class vote is overstated:

Trump’s rise has been built on his strong support amongst the white working-class, with many saying that this could propel him to the White House. However, they are massively overstating the ability of this group to swing the result of the election. In 2012, Obama got just 36% of the white working-class vote, so the Republican Party’s strong advantage with this group is nothing new. What’s more, most of the white working-class voters that Obama won, lived in safe Democratic states like New York, California, and Illinois. Given that Trump has absolutely zero chance of winning these states, winning white working-class voters who live in them is of no consequence. Therefore, even though Trump will likely win an even higher percentage of the white working-class vote than Romney did, this won’t swing the result in any state, and is therefore of no benefit to Trump’s campaign.

5. Republican women:

In 2012, Mitt Romney won 44% of the female vote, but Trump looks certain to lose a significant portion of this. Trump’s problem with female voters extends to members of his own party. In March, polling by NBC News andThe Wall Street Journal found that 47% of female Republican voters couldn’t imagine themselves voting for Trump. This is hardly likely to have improved given last week’s events. In addition, modelling by renowned election forecaster Nate Silver has suggested that if only women voted, Trump would lose such Republican strongholds as Texas, Georgia, and South Dakota. Given that women are more likely to vote than men, this unpopularity could cause Trump huge problems.

6. John Kasich:

Yes, you’re right, Trump beat John Kasich in the Republican Primary. So surely we should forget about Kasich now? Wrong! Kasich could oddly still be crucial to the result in this election. Kasich is Governor of Ohio, perhaps the most crucial state of all in this election. Indeed, no Republican has ever been elected President without winning Ohio and its eighteen electoral votes. But, current polling suggests that Hillary Clinton leads in Ohio by four percent. A loss here would be devastating for Trump, and it is very hard to see how he could possibly win the election without winning Ohio. Kasich having withheld his support is significant. If Kasich had chosen to endorse Trump during the Republican Primary then Trump would have been able to draw upon the popularity of Kasich among Ohioans (currently over 50% of Ohioans believe Kasich is doing a good job as Governor), to gain statewide support. Instead, Kasich has spent much of the campaign denouncing Trump’s rhetoric. His failure to get Kasich on side may go some way to Trump ultimately losing the most important state in this election.

7. Lacklustre fundraising:

Throughout the campaign, Trump has had to put in a lot of his own money, in part because big GOP donors have been reluctant to fund his divisive campaign. This has meant that the Trump campaign has significantly less money than is really needed to mount a credible nationwide campaign, and is one of the reasons that Trump has had to rely on the free publicity given by the media. This funding deficit is only likely to get worse followingreports that the Republican National Committee is withdrawing funds from Trump in order to concentrate on holding the Senate and the House of Representatives; and will make it extremely difficult for Trump to afford the advertising he needs to make gains in the swing states.

8. Lack of organisation/ground game:

The US Electoral College favours the campaign which is the most organised. There can be little debate that this is Hillary Clinton’s campaign, with the Trump campaign having been characterised throughout by its total lack of organisation.

Although Trump rules the roost when it comes to Twitter, there is little evidence that he has built the digital volunteer networks which are so essential to modern campaigning. In addition, Trump’s campaign staff numbers about one-tenth of Clinton’s. For example, in Ohio the Democrats have around 150 paid campaigners on the ground compared to the Republicans 50. This, combined with the Democrats huge advantage in terms of signed-up volunteers will give Trump a huge advantage.

9. Republican primaries are not representative of the general election:

The huge success of Trump in the Republican primaries does not mean he will be successful in the general election. During the primaries, Trump boasted about how he was bringing loads of new voters into the Republican Party, however polling suggested nearly all of these voters were already committed Republicans. Although they may not have voted in previous Republican primaries, they generally always voted Republican when it came to a Presidential Election. So yes, Trump has expanded the Republican base who vote in the primaries, but he hasn’t succeeded in expanding overall support for the Republican Party. Very few people actually vote in primary elections; Trump may have got fourteen million votes in the primaries (not even a majority amongst Republican Primary voters), but he’ll need around 65 million to win an election, meaning the primaries are almost irrelevant. Even though Trump has boasted that his primary wins in Michigan and Pennsylvania mean that he’s likely to win these states in November, there is no evidence for this. In fact, Clinton leads comfortably in each — by an average of 6.8 percent in Michigan, and by an average of 9.2 percent in Pennsylvania. Trump’s success in the primaries suggests nothing about how successful he’ll be in November. Indeed, it is highly likely that the rhetoric which brought him so much success during the primaries will prove a huge turn-off to the swing voters he needs in order to win the Presidency.

10. Trump can’t resist playing to his base:

In the Second Presidential Debate, Trump didn’t do too badly overall, despite the lack of any sort of policy detail in the answers he gave. But, a feature of the debate was the lack of anything that could appeal to swing voters, and the constant return to populist policies which appeal only to his base. Trump’s fall-back is always immigration, and his pledge to build a wall on the US-Mexican border; but what he doesn’t seem to realise is that these policies don’t appeal to the swing voters he needs. Swing voters want to hear about the economy, energy, healthcare, foreign policy; and Trump has proved that he lacks any sort of policy knowledge on these kinds of issues. In addition, he decided that the debate would be a good time to discuss Bill Clinton infidelities. Voters are sick and tired of hearing about the indiscretions of someone who isn’t even running for office. Once again, Trump is falling into the trap of throwing red meat to his supporters, but not appealing to the voters he needs to win. It’s now surely too late for him to rectify this mistake, and therefore he cannot win.

11. Turnout will be HIGH:

A study released in July by the Pew Research Centre looked at the relationship between voter engagement in the run up to the election, and its ultimate effect on voter turnout. It found that engagement in this year’s election was much higher than in previous years: 80 percent of respondents had thought ‘quite a lot’ about the election; 85 percent said that they were following news on the candidates ‘very closely’; 74% believed that it ‘really matters’ who wins the election; and 60 percent said they were more interested in politics than they were four years ago. When compared with the results of the 2008 survey, these results suggest much higher engagement in this year’s election. 2008 produced the highest voter turnout since 1968 (58.23%). Given the level of engagement in this year’s election, it wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility that this is the first election since the 1960s where turnout will reach 60%. In addition, turnout is typically high when there is a large gulf between the two candidates, leading to voters being motivated to vote against one or the other. In this election, it would not be unexpected for Hispanic voters to turnout in record numbers just so that they can vote against Donald Trump.

12. The popularity of Barack Obama:

I know what you’re saying, Barack Obama isn’t running, so why does his popularity matter? The fact of the matter is that Obama’s popularity (55 percent approve of the job he’s doing according to Gallup), means that this election shouldn’t be a change election. If Americans could have four more years of President Obama, then that is what they would likely choose. But they can’t, which means that they’ll go for the next best option, Hillary Clinton.

Debate Debrief.

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Trump and Clinton face off last night in the Second Presidential Debate.

Trump keeps his campaign afloat, but his performance won’t affect the final result.

The expectation was that last night’s Second Presidential Debate would be dominated by the fallout from the derogatory comments made by Trump during an appearance on Access Hollywood in 2005. Early on in the debate, this prediction rang true. Previously, Trump had addressed his recorded comments with a short video, which didn’t include an actual apology but attempted to explain away his behaviour. During the debate, he addressed the scandal in a similarly brief fashion.

He disputed the view espoused by Joe Biden that the recording amounted to “sexual assault”, instead dismissing it as “locker room talk” and following this up with, “I have great respect for women. Nobody has more respect for women than I do.” He then quickly pivoted to a monologue about his plans to destroy ISIS, and although this plan was relatively incomprehensible, it did prove somewhat successful in drawing the debate away from the subject of the tapes.

But when Clinton, in her strongest passage of the debate, offered a strong rebuke of Trump’s “fitness to serve”, Trump responded by bringing up historic allegations of sexual misconduct by Bill Clinton, which followed a pre-debate press conference that he held with several women who allege to have been assaulted by Bill Clinton. Although this was effective in distracting from the problems with his own campaign, it was in no way the best way to bring undecided voters to his side. Prior to the debate, polling suggested that a large majority of voters felt that it would be inappropriate for Trump to bring up Bill Clinton’s alleged misconduct. So although Trump may have reassured his base that he is someone who will stand up to the Clintons, what he won’t have done is persuaded any undecided voters to come aboard. Ultimately, the Trump base is in no way large enough to win an election. No candidate can expect to win without appealing to undecided centre-ground voters, and in bringing up Bill Clinton, Trump did precisely the opposite.

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Bill and Chelsea Clinton look on nervously. 

 

But one thing Trump did well throughout the debate, and which will have gone a long way towards keeping his campaign afloat for the time being, was that he stayed on-message throughout. With Trump, there is always the danger that he goes off on a complete tangent and brings up things completely irrelevant to his campaign, which is something we certainly saw during the first debate. However, this time Trump did well to keep to his long-term script of pitching himself as the only person who can make progress in Washington, as well as consistently disavowing the moderators (and in extension the whole mainstream media) for what he perceived as their biased coverage of him. He regularly interjected whilst Clinton was answering with something along the lines of, “It’s just words, folks,” looking to advance his analysis that throughout her career Clinton has been all words and no action. In addition, when moderators Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper cut him off for going over his two minute limit, he consistently complained that Clinton didn’t get the same treatment (even though she did), with Trump describing the debate as, “one on three”. Again this is a tactic that will further cement Trump’s approval amongst his base of supporters, many of whom believe that the mainstream media is lying to them. But it is unlikely to bring any new supporters into the Trump tent.

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Trump consistently interrupted Clinton’s answers with comments like, “It’s just words folks.”

 

Perhaps the most astonishing moment of the debate came when during an exchange about Hillary Clinton’s emails, Trump said that if he wins, he is “going to instruct my Attorney General to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation.” When Clinton then suggested that given Trump’s loose grasp of the facts it was a good thing that he wasn’t in charge of law and order, Trump hit back with “Because you’d be in jail!” I thought that I’d heard it all in this election, but the threat of jailing the loser is certainly a new one. Making a threat like this is a pretty dangerous game to be playing. Despite the FBI saying that Clinton’s conduct over her emails was “extremely careless”, they concluded that she hadn’t acted illegally. Therefore, Trump is seemingly suggesting that he would imprison Clinton because of her political viewpoint, a tactic used by dictators around the world. Although it may have been meant in a tongue in cheek way, Trump should be disavowing this comment immediately, although don’t count on that happening anytime soon.


Trump did provide us with the best line thus far of any of this election’s debates. In a discussion about a leaked email from Hillary Clinton in which she suggested that politicians needed to have both a public and a private position on certain issues, Clinton gave a unconvincing response that she was referring to the example of Abraham Lincoln using different techniques to get lawmakers to agree with him. Trump responded with: “She lied. Now she’s blaming the lie on the late great, Abraham Lincoln. Honest Abe.” This was easily Trump’s best line of the debate, reflected by the subsequent cheers from some members of the audience.


The second half of the debate was relatively civilised in comparison.

As always Trump answered questions without any reference to his prospective policies, which in any case seem to change from day to day.

When asked about how he would improve Obamacare, Trump responded by saying that he would repeal it and institute “the finest health care plan there is,” in its place. Naturally, there was no indication of what this plan might entail.

On every other subject Trump came up with more of the same. There was nothing in way of policy at all. Trump’s pitch rested on basically saying that he will make things better, but not telling anyone how he plans to do this; much like his oft-repeated (and oft-mocked) ‘secret plan’ for fighting ISIS.

But realistically, Trump didn’t need to put forward any substantial policy. If putting forward substantial policy was a requirement in this presidential election, then Trump would not have got this far.

The fact of the matter is that all Trump needed to do last night was come out and keep his cool, and show that his campaign wasn’t imploding in the way that the week’s events suggested it might be. He achieved this. He debated with much more confidence than in the first debate, and Clinton seemed less sure of herself, missing multiple opportunities to castigate Trump for his lack of policy knowledge.

Immediately prior to this debate, for Trump’s campaign to not completely implode whilst on stage, would have been considered a success.

With this in mind, Trump arguably won this debate. Although Clinton answered the questions better, actually put forward real policies, and showed far better temperament; the standard that Trump needed to hit was much lower. Given the events of the past few days, Trump actually turning up for the debate was a victory in itself. Unlike in the first debate, he wasn’t as eager to take the bait offered by Clinton, and Clinton herself was strangely reluctant to go after him when he made mistakes.

On this basis, it can objectively be said that Trump won the debate. Clinton had the chance to end the election then and there on the stage at Washington University, St Louis; but she blew it. Trump needed to win to survive, and there can be little doubt that he managed this. For Clinton, this debate was far less essential. Despite Trump’s narrow win here, she surely retains the momentum, and with the prospect of further tapes surfacing containing worse comments, there are sure to be many further opportunities for Clinton to trash Trump.

But, for now, the race continues. Will this debate have had any effect on the ultimate result of this election? No, I don’t think so. Clinton remains in pole position to take the White House. But Donald Trump lives to fight another day.

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