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5 key moments from the last presidential debate

'You're the puppet!'


Amrita Khalid


Posted on Oct 20, 2016   Updated on May 25, 2021, 6:27 pm CDT

The final matchup between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Wednesday likely left America as undecided as ever. 

Less than three weeks until Election Day, the steady flow of new leaks, scandals, and conspiracy theories tied to both candidates seemed to have reached a boiling point. The third and last presidential debate in Las Vegas devolved into a contentious “he-said, she-said” as both candidates attempted to set the record straight. A flood of new allegations by women accusing Trump of sexual assault rivaled WikiLeaks‘ release of Clinton’s paid speeches before Wall Street and emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta

Moderator Chris Wallace succeeded at the seemingly impossible: cramming substantive policy questions on abortion, gun control, and the national debt while also tackling the flood of new, negative information that surfaced on the internet about both candidates in recent weeks. 

Wallace’s performance as a moderator may not have done much good. The jury is out on who “won” the last presidential debate, with scientifically suspect flash polls and conservative media indicating it was Trump and political pundits and the mainstream media saying it was Clinton. It likely doesn’t even matter. Historically, the third presidential debate has done little to move the needle

Here are our picks for the most significant moments of the third and final presidential debate. 

1) Trump on Clinton’s stance on abortion: “Rip the baby out of the womb of the mother”

Wallace asked Clinton to defend a Senate vote she took against a ban on late-term abortions. Clinton argued that many late-term abortions often involve medical complications or situations that may affect the health of the mother, and it wasn’t the role of the U.S. government to intervene in such decisions.

 When Wallace asked Trump for his reaction, his response was cringe-inducing—no matter how you feel about a woman’s right to choose. 

 “Well, I think it’s terrible. If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the ninth month, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby,” said Trump. 

2) Trump on border wall: “We have some bad hombres here, and we’re going to get them out”

Trump was asked to defend his plan for a border wall. After pointing out that four mothers of children who had been killed by undocumented workers were guests of his at the evening’s debate, Trump accused Clinton of pressing for open borders and amnesty. 

Trump neglected to flesh out the border wall’s unlikely logistics. He merely pressed on that the United States “needed a wall.” His reasoning? 

“[W]e have some bad hombres here, and we’re going to get them out,” said Trump. 

3) Clinton and Trump go head-to-head on Russia: “You’re the puppet!”

A question from Wallace about a paid speech Clinton gave before a Brazilian bank that was unearthed by WikiLeaks lead to Clinton bringing up Russia’s suspected involvement in the leak. 

This then lead to an even testier head-t0-head as Clinton accused Trump of having egged Russia on to commit acts of cyber espionage following comments he made during a press conference this summer. She also accused Trump of failing to renounce Russian President Vladimir Putin or Russia’s alleged involvement in the scandals. 

“I don’t know Putin. He said nice things about me. If we got along well, that would be good. If Russia and the United States got along well and went after ISIS, that would be good,” said Trump, contradicting prior claims that he met the president of the Russian Federation. 

Trump then announced that Putin had no respect for Clinton, to which Clinton delivered a cool comeback: “Well, that’s because … [Putin] would rather have a puppet as president of the United States.”

Which lead to Trump blurting out, “You’re the puppet!”—a moment that caused Twitter to positively erupt in GIFS from The Muppets

4) Trump: “Such a nasty woman”

In response to a question on entitlement reform, Clinton sailed through with a breezy defense of the U.S. government investing more funds in Social Security, all the while managing a small dig at Trump. 

“My Social Security payroll contribution will go up, as will Donald’s, assuming he can’t figure out how to get out of it,” said Clinton. 

Trump’s sexist response drew outrage from both men and women alike. 

“Such a nasty woman”, he retorted. 

The “nasty woman” label was subsequently re-claimed by Clinton supporters.

5) Trump on whether he would accept the election’s outcome: “I’ll keep you in suspense, OK?”

Wallace pressed Trump on his increasing claims at rallies and campaign events that the 2016 presidential election will be rigged. Such behavior provoked doubts that Trump would accept the results of the election as valid if he loses. 

When Wallace asked the Republican presidential candidate point-blank if he would accept the result of the election, Trump demurred. The real estate tycoon proceeded to rail against voter fraud and the dishonest and corrupt media that he believes is in the bag for Clinton. These were all elements of a process that was rigged against him, Trump argued. 

But Wallace stood his ground. Arguing that agreeing not to accept the outcome of the U.S. election would be historically unprecedented, Wallace pressed Trump to clarify his position. 

“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 to that principle?” asked Wallace. 

Trump responded: “What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense, OK?”

Trump’s refusal to say he would accept the election results made front-page headlines of every news outlet, from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal to the Washington Post this morning. 

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*First Published: Oct 20, 2016, 8:31 am CDT