The American voter and, vicariously, the rest of the world have at last been presented a clear policy choice in the US presidential elections. The third presidential debate saw Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton spend most of their time clashing on how they would address specific problems — from immigration to Iraq.
What did the world learn from the debate? There was a spirited debate on immigration policy. More than anything other issue, this has been the engine in the Trump campaign motor. Clinton called for an amnesty for illegal migrants in the US. This was a politically brave decision. While Americans remain largely favourable to immigration, that support drops sharply on the issue of illegal aliens. The Moscow connection led to one memorable exchange with Clinton saying Putin would prefer “a puppet as president of the United States” and Trump riposting “you’re the puppet.” Inevitably, there was an argument about what to do about West Asia. But Trump failed to discuss the merits of Clinton’s no-fly-zone over Syria at any length and remained as hazy about his “secret plan” to handle the Islamic State as he has before. Instead, it became a fruitless argument about who had and who had not supported the US invasion of Iraq.
Trump positioned himself a true conservative on touchstone domestic issues like gun control, abortion and the like. He wasn’t always convincing on them probably because he doesn’t believe in many of them. After all, this is a native of New York, one of the most liberal locales in the world, and Trump was a registered Democrat for much of his life. The obvious question to ask is why Trump felt it necessary to sound almost presidential. There seem to be two reasons for this. His hell-for-leather style in the second debate, coupled with the cascade of sexual harassment accusations that followed, has helped propel Clinton to an average six to seven percentage point lead in the polls. Surveys show Trump has held on to the same level of support throughout — roughly between 38 and 40 percentage points. But through October, undecided voters have been turning towards Clinton, helping her surge in the polls. Trump has an additional problem: About a fifth to a quarter of Republicans continue to be wary of him. Clinton is now ahead in Republican strongholds in the south like Virginia, North Carolina and Florida. Trump is struggling to hold on to Texas, South Carolina, Georgia and Missouri — states that have been deep red for decades. Hence, one suspects, his attempts to talk about value and identity politics in a relatively clear fashion. This debate reminded the world that this race is not about Donald the Cad and Hillary the Cynic. It is about who runs the world’s most powerful nation and how.