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What We Learned From Wednesday’s Debate

How former presidential campaign managers and operatives saw Round 3

Democratic presidential nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) debates with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during the final debate in Las Vegas last week. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) debates with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during the final debate in Las Vegas last week. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump did anything to change the trajectory of the presidential race in Wednesday’s third and final debate, most experts said immediately afterward.

Democrat Clinton was poised and prepared while Trump, the Republican nominee, landed a few blows. But Trump’s refusal to say whether he would accept the results of the election overshadowed the rest of his performance and reminded people of his erratic nature.

Here’s how a few Republican and Democratic operatives who have run presidential campaigns saw the debate:

“If you missed the debate tonight, congratulations, you saved yourself 95 minutes.

“Trump landed serious blows against Hillary’s corruption and status quo candidacy. Hillary looked relaxed and prepared. But nothing in the fundamentals of the race will change and down-ballot Republican candidates will continue to run well ahead of Trump.

“Hillary will win the White House but as a damaged and discredited president.”

Sarah Isgur Flores, Carly Fiorina’s presidential deputy campaign manager, a fellow at the Harvard Institute of Politics and deputy communications director at the Republican National Committee in 2013.

[Clinton, Trump Talk Around Senate in Supreme Court Debate]

“Thankfully, the debates are over!  Donald Trump, at moments, had a better debate, but not strong enough to change his current trajectory.  He didn’t broaden his appeal, but probably excited his base supporters, who aren’t plentiful enough to give him the election victory.

“Winner — Chris Wallace.  Loser — The American people.”

Christian Ferry, Sen. Lindsey Graham’s presidential campaign manager, a founding partner of The Trailblazer Group and deputy campaign manager for McCain-Palin in 2008.

“Tonight was Donald Trump’s last opportunity to change the trajectory of this race and save himself from an electoral defeat of potentially historic proportions. He did not do that. Yes, his performance was improved from earlier debates, but his answer on whether he’d accept the outcome of the election, along with his inexplicable hero worship of Putin and Assad were frightening and disqualifying.

“This was Hillary Clinton’s best debate of the three — her zingers landed, she emotionally connected on issues like choice, immigration, refugees, and Trump’s demeaning comments about women, and she emerged relatively unscathed from attacks on the Clinton Foundation and the revelations in the Wikileaks emails.

“While Clinton closed the debate with an optimistic view of America and the American spirit, Trump closed with a dark and dystopian view of our country. A belief in the greatness of our country — as imperfect as it remains — is central to the American character. For that reason, and many others, this was Hillary Clinton’s night.”

Lis Smith, Gov. Martin O’Malley’s presidential campaign manager, Democratic commentator and communications consultant, and co-founder of 50 State Communications. She was director of rapid response for Obama for America in 2012.

[Consequences of Trump Campaign’s Performance Incite GOP Frustration]

“Hillary Clinton dominated Trump on the economy. The election is practically over. Trump wants tax breaks for the rich and large corporations. Hillary Clinton talked about raising wages and helping middle class families. Clinton talked about plans for free tuition for middle income and working families. When it comes to creating an economy for all people, Clinton is head and shoulders above Trump.

“Trump wants a Supreme Court dominated by right wing ideologues. Clinton wants to appoint Supreme Court justices who will protect women’s rights and overturn the disastrous Citizens United decision.

“The choice in this election could not be more clear.”

Jeff Weaver, Sen. Bernie Sanders presidential campaign manager, who also ran Sanders’ Senate campaign in 2006 and served as chief of staff in both Sanders’ House and Senate offices.

“Trump had a strong debate. More confident than ever. The race will be close and our House and Senate candidates will be fine.”

Barry Bennett, Ben Carson’s presidential campaign manager, a partner at Synovation Solutions and a former partner at BKM Strategies.

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