Hillary Clinton came off better than Donald Trump by staying more on message and keeping her cool most of the time, a group of regional political experts contacted immediately after Wednesday night’s debate concluded.
There were no knockout punches on either side, not very much new ground was broken and some viewers no doubt hailed the fact it was the candidates’ last matchup on a debate stage. Moderator Chris Wallace may have done the best job in any of the debates with the difficult task of keeping the candidates on task.
The Spokesman-Review asked five people familiar with elections, politics and governments to grade the two candidates, and all five gave Clinton a “B” or better. Trump’s grades were mixed, although most thought he started the night strong before going off on some tangents as the debate wore on.
Several said one thing likely to be much discussed and long remembered was Trump’s answer to Wallace’s question about accepting the results of the election. His running mate Mike Pence and his daughter Ivanka have both said recently that, of course, they would accept the results, Wallace noted.
Trump, who has been warning of a “rigged” election at his rallies, would say only, in essence, we’ll see.
Here’s what the experts contacted by the paper had to say about the candidates’ best and worst moments, and what they think voters will take away from Wednesday’s debate.
CATHY ALLEN, president of The Connections Group, a political and public affairs consulting group in Washington state, who has worked on more than 500 campaigns:
Grade for Clinton: B+
She kept her cool and sounded like she knew what she was doing.
Grade for Trump: B -
He had set expectations of being uncontrollable, but in the beginning he was not the usual Donald Trump, so easy to dismiss.
Best moment for Clinton: When she was talking about where she came from, her history, growing up. That’s when Hillary’s on her game.
Worst moment for Clinton: When she was talking and he was talking. Nobody wins at that.
Best moment for Trump: Talking about the amount of money wasted and her 30 years in office. His best line is always “Why didn’t you do anything?”
Worst moment for Trump: When he said, “Such a nasty woman.” Everyone on his staff was wincing. You don’t make those personal kinds of attacks of character.
The big takeaway from the third debate: It’s finally over. Nothing moved the ball, either way.
EMILY BAKER, managing partner the Gallatin Group, former regional administrator of the General Services Administration in the George W. Bush administration, former policy aide to Idaho Gov. Phil Batt and Lt. Gov. Butch Otter.
Grade for Clinton: B+
Down a bit for times when she got into the muck, into shouting matches. She needs to appear strong and courteous.
Grade for Trump: D
I don’t think he was able to clearly explain his economic policy, and he seemed to contradict himself on Aleppo.
Best moment for Clinton: She did a very good job out of the gate, fielding Chris Wallace’s question about gun control.
Worst moment for Clinton: She did kind of come down to Mr. Trump’s level a few times.
Best moment for Trump: Laying the troubles in the Middle East at Secretary Clinton’s feet. It’s a muddy issue and she was present for some key decisions.
Worst moment for Trump: When he questioned the results of the election. His “I’ll keep you in suspense” attitude is treating it like a new TV pilot coming out.
The big takeaway: Trump’s unwillingness to have a civil transfer of power and concede the election if he loses.
BLAINE GARVIN, tenured professor of political science with 45 years at Gonzaga University.
Grade for both candidates: B+
But the grades are on a curve because one candidate lives in reality and one doesn’t.
Best moment for Clinton: When he would make some charges without any foundation, like “you’re responsible for ISIS,” she would go back and talk about facts.
Worst moment for Clinton: When she continued to talk even though she wasn’t supposed to so she could deliver a set script.
Best moment for Trump: When he managed to stay on his themes, even when some are outlandish.
Worst moment for Trump: Whenever he was asked about his budget. He’s got no answer to what the experts say.
The big takeaway: The experts will say nothing has changed. Trump’s got to have a big breakthrough and that simply didn’t happen.
ALEX HAYS, principal at AB Hays consulting firm, previously with Mainstream Republicans and the Washington State Republican Party.
Grade for Clinton: B
She kept her cool, she stayed on message, repeated her core attacks and did not become visibly agitated.
Grade for Trump: C+
When he brought up the video of the Clinton campaign hiring agitators who created violence at his rallies, she didn’t even respond.
Best moment for Clinton: Nothing sticks out. The whole debate was a dreary rehash of previous debates.
Worst moment for Clinton: Just the slow grinding down of the gears.
Best moment for Trump: The videos of inciting violence. He should have stuck with that.
Worst moment for Trump: The long, rambling discourse about all the women accusers, saying they were put up by the Clinton campaign.
The big takeaway: An ongoing sense of despair over the fate of the republic.
TRAVIS RIDOUT, professor of political science, Washington State University, co-director of Wesleyan Media Project tracking U.S. political ads.
Grade for Clinton: B
Most of the time she looked pretty presidential and appealed to the persuadable voters, like suburban women.
Grade for Trump: C-
The first 30 minutes talking about substantive policy went pretty well, and his base would react pretty positively, but he didn’t appeal to persuadable voters.
Best moment for Clinton: When she was talking about the future and what her vision is.
Worst moment for Clinton: She got bogged down in some fights, and might have picked some unnecessarily.
Best moment for Trump: When he was talking about the types of Supreme Court justices he would appoint.
Worst moment for Trump: When he said he would not necessarily accept the results of the election.
The big takeaway: This debate didn’t change anything. In that regard, it was a wasted opportunity for Trump, who needed to shake things up.