Donald Trump accused Hillary Clinton of being “outsmarted and outplayed” by Russian President Vladimir Putin as a debate that started on a calm discussion of the Supreme Court devolved into charge and counter-charge.
As Clinton deflected questions about leaked e-mails from her campaign by criticizing Trump for failing to denounce Russian interference in the U.S. election, Trump shot back by saying the U.S. has no idea who was behind the hacking.
“Hillary you have no idea,” Trump said as he and Clinton engaged in their third and final debate before Election Day. “She doesn’t like Putin because he has outsmarted her at every turn.”
When the debate got underway, they delivered sharply divergent views of how they would deal with issues like abortion, gun rights and immigration, but at least initially they steered clear of the personal vitriol that marked their earlier encounters.
Both agreed that the Supreme Court is one of the central issues in the campaign, one that both parties have used to motivate voters to get to the polls on Election Day.
“The Supreme Court needs to stand on the side of the American people, not on the side of the powerful corporations and the wealthy,” Clinton said. “The Supreme Court should represent all of us.”
“The Supreme Court is what it’s all about,” Trump said. “It’s so imperative we have the right justices.” He said he would appoint justices that are “pro-life” and have a “conservative bent,” while also being willing to interpret the Constitution “the way the Founders wanted it interpreted.”
The next president may be faced with one or more vacancies on the high court once in office and partisans on both sides have seen the court as a test for the candidates. The divisive issues that may be brought before the court in the coming years include the right of women of have an abortion, limits on campaign spending and restrictions on firearms ownership.
Trump said he would support seeing the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion law overturned.
“That will happen,” Trump said, noting the type of “pro-life” justices that he would plan to appoint. “It will go back to the states and then the states will make the determination.” He described the practice sometimes referred to as partial-birth abortion. “You can take the baby and rip the baby out of womb on the ninth month.’’
Clinton gave an emotional defense of her stance on allowing termination of pregnancies late-term. She cited forced abortions in China and other practices she’s seen while secretary of state. She derided the “scare rhetoric” on the topic that Trump used.
Their most vigorous clash came over immigration and trade. Neither candidate offered any new details on their plans.
“We have some bad hambres here and we’re going to get them out,” Trump said, using the Spanish word for hungry instead of men, hombres.
The fight over immigration policy has been a central issue in the race, with Trump arguing for construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and demanding that Mexico pay for it. Clinton and others have questioned the feasibility of that proposal and she’s promised to introduce comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to full and equal citizenship within her first 100 days in office.
Clinton said Trump’s plan to deport all undocumented immigrants is not in keeping with the nation’s ideals and would “rip our country apart.’’
“I don’t want to rip families apart,” she said. “I don’t want to see a deportation force that Donald has talked about in action.’’
Before their face-off, Trump tried his latest wild-card play by inviting to the debate as guests supporters that include the estranged Kenyan half-brother of President Barack Obama, the mother of one of the victims killed in the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi who blames the former secretary of state for her son’s death, and a former Arkansas television reporter who told Breitbart News that former President Bill Clinton groped her and rubbed up against her in 1980, when he was the state’s governor.
It followed a trend for Trump. For last week’s debate in St. Louis, he invited other women who have accused the former president of sexual misconduct.
A Bloomberg Politics poll of likely voters nationwide showed Clinton leading Trump by 9 percentage points and even holding a narrow advantage among men, a demographic where she had trailed all summer.
The debate comes after a tumultuous few weeks for Trump. His slide started with a lackluster performance in the first debate on Sept. 26 and continued with the release of a 2005 recording of Trump making lewd comments about women and subsequent allegations from several women that he inappropriately touched them.
Trump, who has denied the allegations, has responded by pointing to women who accused Clinton’s husband of sexual misconduct, complaining about media coverage, and suggesting that he’s the victim of a widespread conspiracy involving Clinton, the media, and special interests.
The billionaire businessman has also turned up the volume on his ominous warnings of a “rigged” election and his attacks on Clinton at his campaign rallies have become increasingly harsh and personal, including the suggestion that she was drugged or medicated at the last debate.
Trump has also seized on the ongoing WikiLeaks release of hacked e-mails purported to be from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta to accuse the Democratic nominee of corruption. The Clinton campaign hasn’t confirmed or denied the authenticity of the e-mails and its response has focused on what the U.S. has saidis Russian hacking.
The e-mails include staff discussions about how to lessen the political fallout from Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state and transcripts of speeches she gave to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. that reinforce suspicions among progressives that she is too cozy with Wall Street and more supportive of trade deals than her public stances.
Clinton is trying to capitalize on Trump’s troubles by expandingher campaign into Arizona and other traditionally Republican states, while still seeking to make the case that Trump is unfit to be president.
The format of the 90-minute debate is similar to the first forum, with the candidates behind lecterns and moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News asking questions on topics that include debt and entitlements; immigration; the economy; the Supreme Court; foreign hot spots; and fitness to be president.