If this were a normal election – which seems as good a chapter heading as any for future textbooks discussing 2016 – Hillary Clinton might have taken a severe hit to her poll numbers in the lead-up to Wednesday's third and final debate. WikiLeaks’ embassy-bound editor Julian Assange on Saturday leaked apparent excerpts from three speeches she gave to Goldman Sachs employees in 2013 for $225,000 a pop. (Ecuador cut his internet access the same day, explaining Tuesday that it "does not meddle in electoral campaigns.") On Monday, the FBI released documents showing that a State Department official offered the bureau a “quid pro quo” in mid-2015 for declassifying an email that Clinton had stored on her private server (the offer was refused).
This is not a normal election. Following the second presidential debate, in which he threatened to jail his political opponent, Donald Trump's sex scandal intensified as at least nine women came forward alleging misconduct on his part going back decades and involving girls as young as fifteen. (See also, Donald Trump for President: What Are the Chances?)
His chances of winning soured, and he reacted by calling the election "rigged" on several occasions. On Monday he invoked a "global power structure" – which he also described as a "conspiracy" – with the Clintons at its center and the press at its beck and call. The next day he told a rally, "I don't believe the polls anymore." He lent them quite a bit of credence when he was winning:
Whether Trump will believe the electorate is another, more important matter. When the conservative moderator, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, asked the Republican if he would accept the result of the election, Trump told him, "I will look at it at the time." When Wallace emphasized how important a peaceful transition of power is to the foundation of American democracy, Trump doubled down: "I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense." (See also, Donald Trump's Real Net Worth: $3.5 Billion.)
The United States would not be the only country to jail an opposition leader, or to have an opposition leader refuse to accept the results of an election. Examples abound, none of them from healthy democracies.
In response to a question on migration, Clinton brought up Trump's plan to build a wall on the nation's southern border and to deport a "massive" number of undocumented individuals. Trump has promised to make Mexico pay for the wall in the past, and Clinton accused him of having "choked" and failing to bring it up during his meeting with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto in late August. Trump has estimated the cost of the wall at between $8 billion and $12 billion; a study by the Washington Post, an outlet that is consistently critical of Trump, has put the cost closer to $25 billion. (See also, Top 10 Contributors to the Clinton Campaign.)
Trump emphasized that without secure borders, "we don't have a country." Net migration over the U.S.-Mexican border has in fact flowed towards Mexico from 2009 to 2014, according to the Pew Research Center, with an estimated net 140,000 people emigrating to the south. The group notes, "the slow recovery of the U.S. economy after the Great Recession may have made the U.S. less attractive to potential Mexican migrants"; under better economic circumstances, which Trump promises, the flow of migration could reverse again. (See also, Can Immigration Reform Help the Economy?)
Clinton countered, "we would have to put them on trains," evoking an image from past forced migrations, and argued that it would be better to bring undocumented workers into the formal economy. She said that the ability to pay low wages to undocumented workers pushes down wages for American citizens. She also accused Trump of contributing to the phenomenon by hiring undocumented workers to build Trump Tower, though she misstated the details, according to the New York Times. The paper writes: "While it's true that Mr. Trump hired undocumented Polish workers for the project, the laborers were used to demolish the Bonwit Teller Building on Fifth Avenue to make way for the tower."
Spending on Alliances
Trump reiterated a point he's made in the past that U.S. allies do not pay their fair share. Only four NATO allies are expected to spend the recommended 2% of GDP on defense in 2016: Britain, Estonia, Poland and near-bankrupt Greece. France, Turkey, Norway, Lithuania, Romania, Latvia, Portugal, Bulgaria, Croatia, Albania, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Italy, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Canada, Slovenia, Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg are all expected to fall short, as they did in 2014 and 2015.
Trump added regarding NATO, "all of a sudden, they're paying. And I've been given a lot – a lot of credit for it." The Republican has drawn criticism for appearing to advocate scrapping Article 5, the mutual-defense provision that forms the core of NATO, unless countries pay their fair share.
During the third debate Trump mentioned other allies such as Japan and South Korea, which he said were getting a free ride. According to the New York Times, both contribute to the cost of maintaining U.S. bases on their territory: Japan around $4 billion per year, South Korea around $900 million.
Jobs, Taxes and Debt
Both candidates made extravagant promises regarding the country's economic future, with Clinton vowing to introduce "the biggest jobs program since World War II" – encompassing infrastructure, advanced manufacturing and clean energy – without adding "a penny to the debt." Trump upped the ante on a previous promise, which Mike Pence repeated in the vice-presidential debate, to return the economy to 3.5% or 4% annual GDP growth: he now thinks he can achieve 5% or 6%, which he compares to growth of around 7% in China and around 8% in India. (See also, The World's Fastest Growing (and Shrinking) Economies.)
These promises are vastly overstated. No independent analysis sees Clinton keeping the debt at its current $19.7 trillion, and Trump's comparison to China and India is disingenuous. Both countries are coming from lower bases and different stages of development from the U.S., which posted per capita GDP of $55,836.80 last year, according to the World Bank. India's GDP per head was less than 3% of the U.S.'s, at $1,581.60; China's was around 14%, at $7,924.70. (See also, The GDP and its Importance.)
Rather than disentangle every claim the candidates made, we'll give you the experts' estimates, some of which the candidates and Wallace referenced. (See also, Trump vs Clinton's Economic Policies: What Wall Street Thinks.)
According to an analysis by Moody’s, "there are close to 3.5 million fewer jobs and the unemployment rate rises to as high as 7%" at the end of Trump's first term, "compared with below 5% today." The same authors found that under a Clinton administration the economy would "create 10.4 million jobs, 3.2 million more than under current law." Unemployment would fall to perhaps 3.7% before rising to 4.4% at the end of her term in 2020.
According to the conservative Tax Foundation, Trump’s economic plan – without accounting for an expected positive effect on GDP growth – raises the lowest earners’ (0-10% decile) adjusted gross income by 1.4%, while the highest earners’ (90-100% decile) incomes would increase by 14.6%. For the middle class (30-80%) the figure would range from 3.0% to 8.3%.
In a static scenario that ignores an expected drag on GDP growth, the same group sees Clinton’s plan as having no effect on incomes up to the 90th percentile. Incomes in the 90-100% decile would fall by 0.7%, and incomes in the top percentile (99-100%) would fall by 1.7%.
The fiscally hawkish Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) estimated that Trump's program would cause the $14 trillion portion of the national debt held by the public – of $19.5 trillion total at that time – to swell from 77% to 105% of GDP in 2026. Clinton’s plan would cause it to rise to 86%. Under Clinton the deficit, which the CBO forecasts at $590 billion for fiscal 2016, would expand by $0.2 trillion over the next decade, while under Trump it would expand by $5.3 trillion.
The Tax Foundation sees the national debt swelling by over $10.14 trillion over the next decade under Trump’s plan.
Medicare and Social Security
Neither candidate offered a serious response to Wallace's question regarding Medicaire and Social Security, which he said were expected to run out of money in the 2020s and 2030s, respectively, citing the CRFB. Trump promises to grow the problem away through 5% to 6% annual expansion, while Clinton repeated her vow to force the wealthy and corporations to "pay their fair share." (See also, Why Clinton and Trump Aren't Talking About the Retirement Crisis.)
We've covered other topics that came up Wednesday night previously, including Obamacare, Trump's record in business, the Trump and Clinton Foundations, trade deals such as NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the controversy surrounding Trump's tax returns. (See also, Clinton-Trump Debate: Just Listen to What You Heard and The Second Debate: Here's What You Missed. )