La Trobe experts respond to final debate

With election day less than three weeks away, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have clashed in the final presidential debate. The two sparred over the direction of the Supreme Court, immigration, the economy, US foreign policy, and fitness to lead.

Did the debate change any minds?

Dennis Altman, Professorial Fellow in Human Security, La Trobe University

The final debate produced little that was new, little that was edifying, and probably changed very few minds.

Both candidates threw dirt at each other. Trump’s tactic was to deny. Clinton’s was to circumvent, as when she was asked about potential conflict of interest between her role as secretary of state and access given to donors to the Clinton Foundation.

In some ways this was the most substantial and least dramatic of the three debates, with genuine exchanges on policy. The questions covered the full gamut of issues facing a president, and the first 20 minutes drew predicable faultlines between the candidates on abortion, guns and immigration.

For a brief period it was possible to imagine this was another US presidential election, where both candidates accept the rules of the game and show some respect towards each other. That veneer proved flimsy.

Both questioned the fitness of the other to be president. Trump declared Clinton “should not be allowed to run”. He followed this up by refusing to say whether he would accept the results of the election, saying only he would “keep us in suspense”.

As Clinton pointed out, Trump has a record of calling foul whenever he loses, and his supporters are already calling the election rigged against him. Matt Bevin, the Tea Party Republican governor of Kentucky, has already said blood may need to be shed were Trump to lose.

The paranoid streak in American politics has rarely reached the heights that are likely to face the high probability of a Clinton victory.

Trump ignorant on policy issues

Kumuda Simpson, Lecturer in International Relations, La Trobe University

During the final debate Trump once again demonstrated his startling ignorance on important policy issues – particularly on Iraq and Syria – and his propensity to brazenly lie about his past statements. Clinton, also once again, displayed her detailed understanding of those same issues.

Perhaps the most appalling moment was Trump saying he wouldn’t necessarily accept the election result – thus undermining the very bedrock of democracy.

While the third debate covered a lot of the same material as the previous debates, it also raised two important topics. Gun control and abortion rights are fundamental to understanding US politics.

Clinton and Trump declare vastly different views on these two issues. Trump is anti-abortion and pro-gun-rights. Clinton is pro-choice and in favour of “reasonable gun regulation”.

Since the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade, which declared abortion a constitutional right, conservative states across America have been aggressively legislating to restrict women’s access. Trump said if he were able to appoint several conservative justices to the Supreme Court they would absolutely overturn Roe v Wade. This would be a disaster for women’s rights to control their bodies and reproductive health.

Trump claimed he would hand legislative responsibility for abortion back to the states. We can already see the disastrous consequences of this, as many American states have already eroded what is a fundamental human right.

On gun control the difference was down to regulation. Trump is opposed to any regulation restricting particular types of guns or who can buy them. Clinton claimed she supported the Second Amendment, but with legislation that would close what’s known as the gun-show loophole and restrict access to certain types of weapons.

It is highly unlikely that either position would do anything to seriously tackle the staggering problem of gun violence in the US. Trump’s position certainly would not. Regulation is necessary and will help – but not solve – the problem.

The real issue here is gun violence in the US does not have one simple cause. It is a complex and multi-causal problem that deserves greater attention – and one that certainly was not going to be covered adequately in such a forum.

This text was taken from an article which first appeared in The Conversation.

Image: Reuters