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Politics & Government

Trump, Clinton Spar In Final Debate Before Presidential Election

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene at member station WMFE in Orlando, Fla. We are broadcasting from Florida this week, listening to voters as part of our Divided States project. And last night, our colleagues joined a crowd of Hillary Clinton supporters to watch the third and final presidential debate at a NASCAR-themed restaurant and go-kart venue in Orlando. So in one room, you had go-karts zooming by. And through this glass window over in the next room, people were watching a presidential debate. And this line got a rise from the crowd.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: Nobody has more respect for women than I do - nobody.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: OK. So elsewhere in Orlando, volunteers for Donald Trump's campaign had gathered to watch in a wood-paneled back room bar called the Friendly Confines. The room was a sea of red - red make America great again T-shirts and hats, almost looked like a baseball game. They were watching on a giant projector.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HILLARY CLINTON: I will stand up for families...

UNIDENTIFIED TRUMP SUPPORTER #1: Liar.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: ...Against powerful interests, against corporations.

UNIDENTIFIED TRUMP SUPPORTER #2: No, you will not.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: I will do everything...

UNIDENTIFIED TRUMP SUPPORTER #3: Oh, shit. She'll take their money.

UNIDENTIFIED TRUMP SUPPORTER #4: You will not. There's no way.

UNIDENTIFIED TRUMP SUPPORTER #5: She'll steal them - and sell them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: ...That I can to make sure that you have good jobs with rising incomes...

GREENE: Wow. OK - two very different scenes in Orlando last night. In a moment, we're going to get some analysis of the debate. But first, let's hear what the candidates had to say, from our colleague Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: This was the last chance Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had to make their closing arguments to tens of millions of people at once. And one thing came through loud and clear - they simply cannot stand each other. Trump came to Las Vegas more prepared than he'd been for the first two debates. He called attention to the criticism of Clinton from her own campaign officials revealed in their hacked emails.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Now, John Podesta said you have terrible instincts. Bernie Sanders said you have bad judgment. I agree with both.

CLINTON: Well, you should ask Bernie Sanders who he's supporting for president. And he has said...

TRUMP: Which is a big mistake.

CLINTON: ...As he has campaigned for me around the country, you are the most dangerous person to run for president in the modern history of America. I think he's right.

LIASSON: They couldn't resist sniping at each other, even when the subject was Social Security.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRIS WALLACE: Will you consider a a grand bargain, a deal, that includes both tax increases and benefit cuts to try to save both programs?

CLINTON: Well, Chris, I am on record as saying that we need to put more money into the Social Security trust fund. That's part of my commitment to raise taxes on the wealthy. My Social Security payroll contribution will go up, as will Donald's, assuming he can't figure out how to get out of it. But what we want to do is to replenish the Social Security...

TRUMP: Such a nasty woman.

CLINTON: ...Trust fund.

LIASSON: Since the last debate, nine women have come forward to accuse Trump of inappropriate sexual advances, something that's only exacerbated Trump's weakness with female voters. Clinton came to Las Vegas ready to take full advantage of Trump's predicament.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: He held a number of big rallies where he said that he could not possibly have done those things to those women because they were not attractive enough for...

TRUMP: I did not say that.

CLINTON: ...Them to be assaulted.

TRUMP: I did not say that.

CLINTON: In fact, he went on to say...

WALLACE: Her two - her two minutes, Sir - her two minutes.

CLINTON: He...

TRUMP: But did not say that.

CLINTON: He...

WALLACE: It's her two minutes.

CLINTON: He went on to say look at her - I don't think so. About another woman, he said that wouldn't be my first choice. He attacked the woman reporter writing the story, called her disgusting as he has called a number of women during this campaign. Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger. He goes after their dignity, their self-worth. And I don't think there is a woman anywhere who doesn't know what that feels like.

LIASSON: Then, moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News asked Trump about his repeated complaints that the election was rigged against him and that the only way he could lose is if the election were stolen from him. This is a notion that Trump's running mate, his daughter and his campaign manager have all rejected.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WALLACE: I want to ask you here on this stage tonight, do you make the same commitment that you will absolutely - Sir - that you will absolutely accept the result of this election?

TRUMP: I will look at it at the time. I'm not looking at anything now. I'll look at it at the time. What I've seen - what I've seen is so bad. First of all, the media is so dishonest and so corrupt. And the pile-on is so amazing. The New York Times actually wrote an article about it - that they don't even care. It's so dishonest, and they've poisoned the minds of the voters. But unfortunately for them...

LIASSON: Trump charged, without evidence, that millions of people without the right to vote would be casting ballots, an effort to delegitimize the election in advance of the results. And he added something new, suggesting that Hillary Clinton's candidacy itself was illegitimate.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Tell you one other thing - she shouldn't be allowed to run. It's crook - she's guilty of a very, very serious crime. She should not be allowed to run. And just in that respect, I say it's rigged because she should never...

WALLACE: But...

TRUMP: Chris, she should never have been allowed to run for the presidency based on what she did with emails and so many other things.

WALLACE: But, Sir, there is a tradition in this country - in fact, one of the prides of this country is the peaceful transition of power and that no matter how hard fought a campaign is that at the end of the campaign, that the loser concedes to the winner, not saying that you're necessarily going to be the loser or the winner but that the loser concedes to the winner and that the country comes together, in part for the good of the country. Are you saying you're not prepared now to commit...

TRUMP: What I'm saying...

WALLACE: ...To that principle?

TRUMP: ...Is that I will tell you at the time. I'll keep you in suspense. OK?

CLINTON: Well, Chris, let me respond to that because that's horrifying.

LIASSON: Trump was actually more disciplined and focused on policy in this debate. But that was overshadowed by his refusal to abide by the results of the election unless he's the winner. Trump has proved that he's a master of media domination. For better or worse, he knows how to keep the spotlight trained almost exclusively on himself. Now he's guaranteed that the headlines from this last debate will be all about his rejection of the most basic democratic principle, at a time when Trump's position in the polls is already precarious.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Las Vegas.

GREENE: OK. Let's bring in two more voices here. Democratic pollster Margie Omero joins us from NPR West in California, and Republican pollster Jim Hobart is with us in our studios in Washington.

Good morning to you both.

MARGIE OMERO: Good morning.

JIM HOBART: Good morning.

GREENE: Steve Inskeep sent me a message, Jim, that you were shaking your head when Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton a nasty woman. Why was that?

HOBART: His central problem this race is that he continually demonstrates that he lacks the temperament to be a president. That is the case that Hillary Clinton has, so far, successfully prosecuted against him. And that just plays right into her hands. It's not what voters want to see from someone running for president.

GREENE: So Donald Trump, if he's running to win, does not want to be playing into Hillary Clinton's hands. When he does something like that, when he does not commit to the results - I mean, there has to be some kind of political argument for why he's doing these things. Right? Who is he appealing to?

HOBART: He seems to be running a campaign designed to appeal to 40 percent of the electorate. I think, at this point, it's difficult to say that he is trying to win. Or if this is his strategy for trying to win, I think any Republican would tell you - if they were being honest - that it's a misguided strategy.

GREENE: That's a big charge to make, saying that this campaign is not trying to win. You really believe that?

HOBART: They are not doing the types of things that they would need to do to win 50 percent of the vote. They may think that they are. But again, if - I think anyone who's being honest says this isn't something that they are doing.

GREENE: Margie, Hillary Clinton seemed to really try to get under Donald Trump's skin last night, I mean, in many moments...

OMERO: It's not hard, is it?

GREENE: Some saying (laughter) - well, some saying - I mean, she was going more negative. I mean, was this a different kind - a different side of Hillary Clinton than we've seen in the other debates?

OMERO: No, I think she was incredibly strong and consistent. And she revealed what we know to be true about Trump after three debates and after watching this election all year. There may be a lot of things we feel like we don't know anymore, but this we know. Trump cannot go through 90 minutes without being incoherent and unfocused on the issues and hard to pin down and also rude. And the fact that we end up having someone say - no, you're - you know, you're the puppet.

(Laughter) Like, I don't think that's ever been said in a debate before. I mean, it's really outstanding. I mean, it's incredible how off the rails he got. Once again, that is probably his most consistent trait. And the fact that she...

GREENE: But we spoke to...

OMERO: ...Brought that to light, you know, is important. We need to see - we need to - he needs to be revealed for the personality traits that he has.

GREENE: We spoke to one voter in Florida who said she was waiting for Hillary Clinton to show - to make a real call for unity and bringing people together. Does going negative like that accomplish that?

OMERO: Look, I think the - here's what I am really worried about. I'm worried about this sense that we have two different sets of facts. Pew showed that 81 percent of Americans feel that we don't have the same - the parties can't agree on the same facts, let alone policy approaches.

And if you - when you look at that and you look at the lens through which Trump and his supporters review in the election the fact that they may not even believe the results when they come in, I'm worried about what happens afterwards. How do we all come together? I think - what Clinton did last night, I don't think that jeopardizes it. The fact that Trump says that he's going to keep us in suspense about how he feels about the election results - I mean, that is going to make it even harder for us all to fully unite behind the winner come November.

GREENE: Jim, let me finish with you. Our political editor, Domenico Montanaro, said this is - the position for Trump is similar to being down 3-0 in a best-of-seven baseball series. It can be done. You can come back. But it is very, very difficult. Did Donald Trump do anything at all last night to help him in some of these important states that he has to win?

HOBART: I think it might be more like being down 3-0 in the - Game 4 and then down 3-0 in the ninth inning of Game 4. And no, there's nothing last night that demonstrated that he is going to make any type of a comeback.

GREENE: All right. Margie Omero, Democratic pollster, and Republican pollster Jim Hobart. Thanks for getting up and doing this with us this morning. We always appreciate it.

OMERO: Thanks so much.

HOBART: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.