The final 2016 presidential debate
October 20, 2016

More than 70 million people tuned in to watch the final debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Wednesday evening, leading CNN's Brian Stelter to deem the election the "highest-rated drama on TV." While the ratings didn't quite reach the same heights as they did for the first Clinton-Trump debate — 84 million — they did dwarf the final debates between Barack Obama and John McCain in 2008 (56 million) and Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012 (59 million).

"That defies all the trends in TV. We're all watching our own things nowadays, the audience is fracturing into lots of little pieces, but that's not the case with these debates," Stelter said. Jeva Lange

October 20, 2016

A primary defense by Donald Trump's supporters to Trump's refusal at Wednesday night's debate to say he will respect the outcome of the election is that Al Gore demanded a recount in Florida in 2000. Bill Bennett made that case on Fox News, and Jeffrey Lord made a similar point on CNN Wednesday night. Hillary Clinton supporter Van Jones was having none of it, and he was not having it using a colorful analogy.

"You know, this is a really sad night, I'm just gonna say it," Jones said. "This is a very sad night for the country. You can't polish this turd. I'm sorry, you cannot." "Technically, you can't polish any turd," Anderson Cooper cut in, getting a laugh. Jones chuckled too, but he was just getting started. "I'm going to be very clear about this: Al Gore respected the Constitution, respected the process, respected every voter, went to our Supreme Court, asked for a resolution on his own terms — as did George W. Bush — and when the election results were certified, he told his party and his base to stand down and accept this, even though a lot of us were very, very upset."

Donald Trump's actions are different, he added. "What you just got now was the nominee of a major party, for the first time in our history, signaling to the American people that he has so little faith in our institutions, he has so little faith in our people, he has so little faith in our courts, he has so little faith in the Republican governors, the Republican secretaries of state across this country that he will not stand in front of his own country, in front of his own nation and say that he respects the process and the outcome," Jones said. "That is an outrage, an appalling lack of patriotism." He went on to question Trump's patriotism over his praise of Vladimir Putin, and you can watch below. Peter Weber

October 20, 2016

Charles Krauthammer thought the big winner of Wednesday night's final presidential debate was the moderator, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, he said on Fox News. But Donald Trump almost pulled off a win, too, he said. Almost. "Trump had a really good night, but here the consensus is right: He blew it up by a totally wrong answer on accepting the results," Krauthammer said. "And in some sense, I almost admire him for it. This was not a gaffe, where you say something off-the-cuff and it's what you think but it's wrong. You know that he'd been coached on this. You know that his vice president had said, 'of course we will accept the result,' and his campaign manager and his daughter. And you know he's convinced this is something he wants to take a stand on, and the calculation — this is political suicide. Because what was his task tonight? His task tonight was to stop the slide" of "people grudgingly going over to Clinton."

Wavering voters won't change their minds about Hillary Clinton, he argued, but they might have been persuaded to come back to Trump if he had made himself "less toxic and acceptable as president, and less radical — yes, they want a change agent, they think the country's on the wrong track, but they don't want a radical who will challenge the foundations of the republic." Earlier on Fox News, Bill Bennett had said that Trump is right to keep people guessing, and Trump obviously agrees, Krauthammer said. "I'm sure his calculation is that it's not going to cost him, and it's going to help him. I don't understand that calculation. But I do think he said it out of conviction. He's a man who says, 'I'm not a loser,' so if he does lose it's gotta be something else." Watch below. Peter Weber

October 20, 2016

A lot of people shared Hillary Clinton's horror at Donald Trump refusing to say he will accept the outcome of the presidential election, but on Fox News, conservative pundit Bill Bennett told Megyn Kelly and Brett Baier that Trump was right. The "conventional wisdom in the press" is that "this was this horrible thing, about 'was the election rigged?' and he'll wait until the day after the election to decide," Bennett said. "People need to look at a little American history here. There have been a lot of allegations of this, there have been a lot of challenges — John Kennedy, West Virginia, Nixon might have wanted to take another look at West Virginia; Al Gore said 'I wanted a recount' after pledging that he would abide by the results. So why not wait till the day after? He's not going to lead a revolution on the White House, he's not going to mount a horse with a bayonet."

Overall, Bennett said, "I thought Trump did very well. He knows where Mosul is, he knows where Aleppo is, unlike Gary Johnson... I thought he did his homework." Bennett also found some other controversial Trump statements regarding Clinton to be blown out of proportion: "And in terms of nasty woman — I know we're going to run with this — two questions: Is she nasty? Is she a woman? Yes, yes."

Many people found Clinton's answer to an abortion question a high point of her debate performance, but Bennett said Trump "was very smart... to go to partial-birth abortion, to go to the last stage. She made the rhetorical point, which is effective, 'I've talked to a lot of women, you should talk to these women,' there's a response to that, too, which is 'we should talk to the babies who were aborted. Unfortunately we cannot.'" Watch all that, plus Bennett and Kelly tussling over what constitutes sexual harassment, below. Peter Weber

October 20, 2016

Donald Trump was mocked for trying to address Haiti based on his experience "at Little Haiti the other day in Florida," but while his takedown didn't really get off the ground, he did manage to make his main point. "I want to tell you, they hate the Clintons, because what's happened in Haiti with the Clinton Foundation is a disgrace. And you know it, and they know it, and everybody knows it," Trump said.

It is a train of thought Trump has been following for a few weeks now. As The Washington Post writes:

Trump comes late to Haiti. The Clintons have had a special interest in the country ever since they honeymooned there in 1975. President Bill Clinton restored Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power in 1994 after he was expelled in a coup. Clinton and former president George W. Bush agreed to head the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, created in 2010 after the devastating earthquake, to raise billions in aid. And Clinton became co-chair of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission.

Trump is right that many Haitians now loathe the Clintons. There are as many conspiracy theories among Haitians about the Clintons as you would find at a Trump rally. Some resent their heavy-handed role in Haitian politics. Others believe they have somehow found a way to benefit financially or have only helped the wealthy elite. The rumor mill has been fueled by gaffes like Hillary Clinton's brother Tony Rodham joining the advisory board of VCS Mining, a Delaware-based company that has tried to raise money to mine for gold in Haiti. [The Washington Post]

In Clinton's defense, the people Trump spoke with in Little Haiti were primarily "GOP operatives, one of whom had been a supporter of a right-wing militarist junta in the 1990s," journalist Jonathan M. Katz tweeted. He added that Trump's host was "Georges Saati, a right-wing extremist who's been accused of funding paramilitaries in Haiti."

Katz added that while Clinton's rejoinder was weak, she scraped by unscathed. "That's because if you really wanted to nail her, you'd ask her about interfering in the 2011 election. You'd ask about why reconstruction was so explicitly meant to benefit American businesses and customers. You'd ask why after she promised to do aid differently after the quake the U.S. government and American aid groups did the same old thing," Katz explained. Read his entire breakdown here. Jeva Lange

October 20, 2016

Republican pollster Frank Luntz empaneled a group of undecided voters in Las Vegas to watch Wednesday night's final debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for CBS News, and the voters appeared to grudgingly be closer to picking a candidate afterward. "This was a great evening for voters, because it helped them make up their minds," Luntz said. He asked people to give one word for Trump, and the responses include "ignorant," "struggled," "improved," "blowhard," "inadequate," "passionate," "P.T. Barnum," and "rude." For Clinton, people picked "presidential," "competent," "snoozefest," "criminal actress," "more believable," and "politician."

"Not particularly good for either candidate," Luntz said. "This is not the evaluation I would want from my teacher." He showed two clips from the debate, one in which Clinton railed against Trump for his "rigged" election talk and another where Trump (falsely) criticized Clinton for losing $6 billion at the State Department. Luntz, certainly, and many of his focus group participants did not like their options. One black woman said no president has done anything for her community since the 1970s, "so when I go to vote, I'm going to vote for the lesser of the two evils, the menopausal one." A man added: "It's very difficult for me because I'm picking the lesser of two evils, which I think Hillary Clinton is. I want to pick Donald Trump so badly it's ridiculous, but I just don't feel like I can, because I think he's crazy."

Luntz's group said Trump won the debate, 14-12, but snap polls by CNN and YouGov had Clinton winning the showdown by at least a 10-point margin. Peter Weber

October 20, 2016

Just days after he said he would "absolutely" accept the results of the election, Mike Pence has added a caveat.

During Wednesday's final presidential debate, Donald Trump refused to say if on Nov. 8, should he lose, he will accept it. In the spin room, his running mate was asked by NBC News if Trump should have responded the way he did on Sunday's Meet the Press, when Pence said the ticket will "accept the will of the American people." Pence said "with all due respect, the media coverage in this presidential campaign has been so one-sided" and voter fraud is a "reality," so taking that into consideration, it makes sense for Trump to take a "wait and see approach."

"I have no doubt in my mind in the 20 days that remain in this campaign, we're going to continue to call for more balanced coverage and continue to call on people all across this country to respectfully participate in this electoral process to ensure that we can all be confident in the vote, and if the vote is fair I'm confident we'll accept it," Pence said. This isn't the first time Pence has changed his position to align with Trump — before he became his running mate, Pence called Trump's proposed ban on letting Muslims enter the U.S. "offensive and unconstitutional." After, he said he was "very supportive" of Trump's "call to temporarily suspend immigration from countries where terrorist influence and impact represents a threat to the United States." Catherine Garcia

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