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Some Key Takeaways From the Third Presidential Debate

From the national debt to the Supreme Court, we’ve got you covered.


(Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images; Pacific Standard)

The High Drama of the Supreme Court

The candidates weighed in on the type of justices they would like to see on the Supreme Court bench. Though its deadlock has taken a back-seat to flashier news — like sexual assault allegations and WikiLeak email dumps — the court has seen some of the year’s most intense political drama. Senate Republicans’ block of President Barack Obama’s March nomination to the court, Merrick Garland, is historically unprecedented, delaying the decision for nearly three times as long as it has taken on average to confirm past nominees. That stubbornness looks unlikely to yield: Senator John McCain dug his heels in for Republicans just this week, vowing Monday to block anyone Hillary Clinton would nominate.

When it comes to nominees, both Clinton and Donald Trump have left their options open. Clinton said tonight that the Senate should have followed through on Garland but previously stated she’s not committed to Garland, while Trump has identified 21 candidates and sold himself on the promise of a nominee similar to Antonin Scalia, the formidable conservative whose death left the current opening. Yet on Monday, an organization of constitutional “originalists” like Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas published a letter against Trump. Neither presidential candidate, then, offers a smooth path toward nine justices. The prevailing ideology of the nation’s top court hangs in the balance — so far a casualty of mounting partisanship nationwide, Michael R. Fitzgeraldwrote for Pacific Standard in February:

So when scores of Republican elected officials and operatives took to Twitter and Facebook within hours of Scalia’s death to declare their opposition to anyone Obama should nominate, they were simply acting on their voters’ knee-jerk disgust with the president’s party, as part of a gradual escalation of partisan hostilities over federal judicial nominations.

Those hostilities have bled into national elections, with the highest-ever recorded percentage of Americans voting in 2012 only for candidates of their own party across levels of government, Fitzgerald reported.

So the ugliness around Supreme Court nominations may have more to do with the American public than with just Clinton and Trump. Elena Gooray

Enough With the ‘Chicago Argument’

Trump once again cited violence in Chicago in his argument that gun control doesn’t tamp down crime. Two points on the “Chicago argument”:

  1. Sixty percent of guns used in Chicago crimes were purchased from other states with more lax gun laws. Twenty percent came from Indiana alone, according to U.S. News and World Report.
  2. Chicago actually ranked 19th in the United States in gun homicides, according to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. When people say it has the most murders, that’s not the murder rate; the murder rate is murders per 100,000 people.

While it would be nice to get data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to further explore these numbers, because of the Dickey Amendment, that’s not likely to happen any time soon. Max Ufberg

Why Murderous Toddlers Are Not a Good Argument

In a short discussion on gun control, Hillary Clinton took the ready-made viral route: citing not just the deaths of children (an easy political point), but the fact that toddlers tend to actually shoot and kill adults, which is actually true. The Washington Postreported in May that toddlers have shot at least 23 children as of that month. In 2015, the Post found that toddlers were shooting and killing gun owners at a rate of about one a week.

Does this have any actual relevance to gun control? Not really. Per the Post’s Christopher Ingraham:

Georgia is home to the highest number of toddler shootings, with at least eight incidents since January 2015. Texas and Missouri are tied for second place with seven shootings each, while Florida and Michigan are tied for fourth, with six shootings apiece.

You might think that toddler shootings are simply a function of population — the more people who live in an area, the more toddlers are likely to shoot someone. But that doesn’t appear to be wholly the case. California and New York are two high-population states that have seen only three toddler shootings between them since 2015.

And Illinois, home to infamously high rates of gun violence in Chicago, has not seen a single toddler shooting since 2015.

Murderous toddlers make for a great debate soundbite, but Clinton would be better suited to focus on, say, repealing the Dickey Amendment, which prohibits funding for research on gun violence by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. After all, how could politicians design legislation to address a major crisis without first understanding the scope and depth of the problem they’re trying to fix in the first place?

Besides, focusing on knowledge is a great way to shaft the modern avatar of the Know-Nothing Party of American politics past. — Jared Keller

Women Overwhelmingly Do Not Regret Their Abortions

Hillary Clinton just described late-term abortions as extremely fraught decisions for women. That may be the case — but one 2015 study found that, overall, women by and large do not regret their abortions. Over 99 percent of the 667 women surveyed after having early- and late-term procedures said they made the right decision, up to three years after the procedure, as Lisa Wade wrote last year.

So the data suggests it’s a tough decision — but not a regretted one. — Elena Gooray

Immigration, Once More

“We either have a border, or we don’t.” — Trump, October 19th, 2016.

A few quick points on Trump’s proposed border, perMatt Bors:

  • It would cost roughly $30 billion for a 2,000 mile wall. (And, no, Mexico will not pay for this wall.)
  • A wall would damage hundreds of miles of parkland and wildlife refuge.
  • It would require three times the amount of concrete needed for the Hoover Dam. “That quantity of concrete could pave a one-lane road from New York to Los Angeles, going the long way around the Earth, which would probably be just as useful,” Bors writes.
  • Even when factoring in the Secure Fence Act of 2006 — essentially Congress’ mandate for wall construction — building Trump’s wall would require the seizure of land from thousands of Americans through eminent domain. Max Ufberg

What Trump Gets Wrong About Immigration

When questioned on immigration, Trump returned to his usual trope of building a wall to prevent drugs and crime from flowing from Mexico into the U.S. It is, of course, “a mess,” in his viewing.

But, according to the data, not so much: President Obama has overseen one of the highest upticks in border enforcement and deportment in modern American history. As I wrote in September:

Despite accusing President Barack Obama of being lax on immigration, the current administration spent a record $18 billion on immigration enforcement in 2012, more than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined (per theNew York Times). By the end of 2013, deportations reached a record high of 438,421 unauthorized immigrants, according to the Pew Research Center; while that number dropped 5 percent the next year, the Obama administration has still deported a total of 2.4 million between 2009 and 2014.


(Chart: Pew Research Center)

Clinton’s riposte to Trump — a pledge to introduce comprehensive immigration reform within her first 100 days in the White House — actually gets more to the heart of the real crisis at the border: That undocumented immigrants, especially children, often suffer in a bureaucratic limbo before they’re processed and, often, deported. As I wrote:

Children are either thrown into a short-term border control holding facility or sent to U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement shelter. In the case of the former, these children are often placed in foster care or released to sponsors, few of whom are appropriately vetted. Home studies of sponsors are only conducted in fewer than 5 percent of cases, per Child Trends, and a 2016 report by the Department of Health & Human Services revealed “allegations of sexual misconduct by contract staff in [ORR] contracted facilities, extortion scams of ORR sponsor families, and the potential for grant fraud.” …

While undocumented migrant children must be referred to an immigration court within three weeks of their apprehension at the border, Child Trends reveals that the average filing for a hearing day is nearly 700 days, or almost two years, after. That’s a significant increase from the 100-day waiting period the Office of Inspector General uncovered back in 2012, itself far beyond the department’s 60-day “timeliness” limit.

Compassion, not suspicion, can fix the real crisis at the border. Jared Keller

Trump’s Plan Means Huge Breaks for the Rich

On to the part of the debate every voter pretends to care about but no one really understands: taxes. Here’s a quick breakdown of the differences between Trump and Clinton’s tax plans, courtesy of Dwyer Gunn:

Trump’s tax plancalls for a simplification of the tax code, the elimination of a variety of loopholes, the elimination of the estate tax, a cap on the federal income tax rate (of 33 percent), and a ceiling on the corporate tax rate (of 15 percent).

None of this, it turns out, results in a tax code in which the wealthy pay their fair share.In September, the Tax Foundation, a right-leaning think tank, released an analysis of Trump’s current tax plan. It found (as the chart to the left illustrates) the benefits would overwhelmingly accrue to wealthier Americans. …

Clinton’s plan also calls for tax increases, but those increases will fall almost exclusively on top earners. An analysis of her plan by the left-leaning Tax Policy Center finds that low- and middle-income households will see a very small decline (less than 0.2 percent) in after-tax income (due to the effects of the plan on wages), while higher-income Americans will see their tax bills go up under the Clinton plan.

Put more simply, Trump’s plan would provide huge tax breaks for the richest Americans, and Clinton’s would raise taxes on high earners. Max Ufberg

Fighting the National Debt

The candidates defended their plans to boost economic growth and slow the debt — the latter of which may emerge the true victor in the presidential election, as neither candidate has a robust plan to shrink it. But analyses point to a major differencebetween their proposals nonetheless: Trump’s policies would hugely increase the debt, while Clinton’s would keep it around current levels.

Clinton plans to boost revenue mostly through taxes on high-income households, with the top 1 percent of American households paying over 90 percent of the increase, and the bottom 80 percent receiving tax cuts. Her policies would cut the debt by $1.6 trillion overall over the next 10 years, the Tax Policy Center estimated last week, though most of that boost would get sucked back up by her spending proposals, keeping the debt stable. Trump, on the other hand, would add about $7.2 trillion to the debt.

Ultimately, what matters most for the economy is growth rather than debt reduction, Dwyer Gunnwrote forPacific Standard in May. A preoccupation with debt may have actually contributed to slow recovery from the Great Recession, as Gunn reported. Fixating on the debt is no great boon for national finances — though exploding it by $7 trillion would, surely, be worse. — Elena Gooray

On Trump’s Assault Allegations

As expected, Trump was forced to address the mounting pile of sexual assault allegations leveled against him since an explosive 2005 video capturing, well, some unrepeatable language, dropped ahead of the second presidential debate. At least 10 new allegations have emerged in the last week or so, per Slate.

“Nobody respects women more than me,” Trump said once again, before asserting that the women who leveled accusations against the Republican candidate were either looking for fame or working in concert with the Clinton campaign to put her in the White House.

Statistically speaking, that’s highly unlikely. A review of data by the National Sexual Violence Research Center found that between 2 and 10 percent of rape allegations are eventually proven false … which means that even if one of these women made up her story, the others likely aren’t lying. — Jared Keller

Trump Won’t Necessarily Honor the Results of the Election

Moderator Chris Wallace just asked Trump whether he would honor the outcome of the election. Trump’s response: “I will look at it at the time…. I’ll keep you in suspense.”

Trump has long insisted that, if he loses in November, it will be because of widespread voting fraud perpetrated by the Democratic Party. At the end of the first debate, Trump seemed to modulate his tone, pledging to honor the outcome of the election even if wins. Shortly after the debate, he rescinded that pledge, and the main theme of his candidacy ever since has been that widespread fraud is inevitable.

Setting aside concerns that Trump is helping destroy faith in the electoral process, his campaign is also set to impede actual voting, on the ground.

As early as August, Trump’s website was soliciting supporters to volunteer as “Trump Election Observers” — an idea that is at best redundant and at worst reeks of voter intimidation — during the first presidential election in half a century where voters won’t enjoy the full protections of the Voting Rights Act:

As Public Policy Polling found after the first debate, Trump supporters believe overwhelmingly that voter fraud could be decisive in the election: According to PPP, 65 percent of surveyed Trump supporters said that, if Clinton wins the election, it will be because things were rigged in her favor. Just 21 percent say that a Clinton victory would be legitimate. And some of them are ready to hit the street. Take what one Trump supporter told the Boston Globe earlier this week:

“Trump said to watch your precincts. I’m going to go, for sure,” said Steve Webb, a 61-year-old carpenter from Fairfield, Ohio.

“I’ll look for … well, it’s called racial profiling. Mexicans. Syrians. People who can’t speak American,” he said. “I’m going to go right up behind them. I’ll do everything legally. I want to see if they are accountable. I’m not going to do anything illegal. I’m going to make them a little bit nervous.”

Research suggests that such an initiative would lead to the suppression of honest votes. Adam Gitlin, of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law, spoke to ProPublica about this danger:

There’s actually a risk that, in a more disorganized way, people are going to be showing up to the polls, they won’t know the law, and they’ll be engaging in discriminatory challenges. That can create the potential for a lot of disruption, longer lines because each voter takes longer to vote, and potentially discouraging and intimidating voters from coming to the polls.

The Brennan Center reports that it’s legal in 46 states for a private citizen to challenge a voter’s registration on or before Election Day. That means, potentially, a passel of increasingly angry Trump voters shouting at Hispanic voters, or worse — all in service to fixing a terrifying problem that doesn’t exist.Ted Scheinman

Who’s Fit for the Big Job?

To close, Chris Wallace lobbed the two candidates one of the softest — and vaguest — questions you’ll hear all night: “Tell the American people why they should elect you for president.”

For Trump, this meant an opportunity to talk once more about Clinton’s Wall Street connections, and to discuss the need for law and order policing; Clinton opted to reference her lengthy experience in childcare.

The American people, for one, seem to favor Clinton here. The latest RealClearPolitics poll, which follows a string of controversies around Trump (though Clinton has seen her fair share of scandals these past few weeks, too), has Clinton up by seven points, 49 percent to 42 percent.

And while both candidates still score pretty low on the “favorability” scale, Clinton has managed to pull away from Trump here as well, as the graph below indicates.


(Graph: Graphiq)

We’ve wonderedaloud during the previous two debates whether Trump might be able to close the so-called temperament gap. So far — thanks in large part to the now-infamous 2005 video leak — the answer has been a resounding no. — Max Ufberg