Liveblog: The third and final presidential debate

Nicky Woolf liveblogs tonights debate.

10:48PM

That was a definite Obama win - so much so that even Fox News is admitting right now that "the President did a good job." If that doesn't scream domination, I don't know what does...

There were 3.6 times more tweets post-debate saying Obama won than Romney, and a CBS News snap poll of 521 people shows 53% thought Obama won to just 23% Romney.

Line of the night was Obama to Romney: "the 1980s are calling. They want their foreign policy back."

 


10:31PM

Obama's closing statement: "As commander in chief, I will maintain the stongset miliary in the world, keep faith with our troops, and go afte the people who did us harm. But after ten years of war, I think we also need to do some nation-building at home. ... If I have the privilege of being your president for another 4 years, I will fight for you."

"I'm optimistic about the future," says Romney. "I'm excited about our prospects. I want to see peace. ... I want to make sure that we get this economy going. I'll get us on track to a balanced budget." No mention of foreign policy for Mitt Romney. Or Obama, in fact, in their closing statements. A real indication of how little importance there is on foreign policy here. "We need strong leadership - I'd like to be that leader. I'll lead you in an open and honest way... to make sure America remains the hope of the earth."

 


10:27PM

Now - and I have no idea why we're doing this - we're talking about the auto industry bailout again, bickering about who said what and when. "People can look it up," says Romney. "They will look it up." They won't look it up.

 


10:25PM

The Guardian's Johnny Paige sums up the situation...

 


10:20PM

"We have brought more cases against China for violating trade rules than the previous administration had done in two terms," says Obama.

Romney's back on safer ground here. 

If you declare them a currency manipulater on day one, won't you start a trade war? "It's pretty clear they don't want a trade war," says Romney. "And there's a trade war going on right now. And they're winning."


 

10:17PM

Now we're on to China, says Schieffer, but then - bizarrely, adds: "what do you think is the greatest threat to American national security."

"Terrorists," says Obama, with a slightly raised eyebrow. "But... on to China..."

He's talking about China's "cheating" on trade, something that's been in all of Romney's stump speeches.

 


10:13PM

Drones. "I believe we should use any and all means," says Romney. "I support them entirely."

 


10:12PM

Romney is being zinged on Twitter by Obama's debate-prep partner, John Kerry:

 

 


10:03PM

"What happens if you get the call and Israeli bombers are on the way to Iran," says Schieffer. Mitt says it would never happen. "My relationship with Israel would be that it would never just be a call... it would be discussed in full."

"The problem is that on a whole range of issues, whether it's the Middle East or Afghanistan or Iraq or Iran, you've been all over the map," says Obama. "I'm pleased that you're now endorsing our policy of applying diplomatic pressure, but just a few years ago you said that was something you'd never do."

 


9:59PM

Obama is really hitting Romney hard. "Everything he just said isn't true," he says, before pointing out that Romney previously did business with Iranian oil. Romney's face is beginning to be frozen in a rictus grin as Obama 

"If we're going to talk about trips we've taken, the first trip I took as a candidate was to visit our troops. When I visited Israel as a candidate, I didn't take donors. I went to yad vashem, the Holocaust museum, to remind myself of the nature of evil."

 


9:53PM

Consensus in the room appears to be that Obama is dominating maybe even too much. "I feel a bit sorry for Mitt," says one. "Yeah," says the guy to my right. "Mitt has a really hard life." Snigger.

 


9:48PM

"My opponent hasn't looked at our military recently. We don't have as many horses or bayonets..." A snide but cutting put-down from Obama. Romney is sweating, seems nervous.

Now Israel. "If Israel is attacked, America will stand with them," says Obama. "In fact this week we will be carrying out the largest military exercise with them in history," says Obama.

 


9:34PM

Twitter is very unimpressed with Schieffer's moderation.

 

 


9:34PM

Now both are talking about home policy, it seems, and Scheiffer is doing nothing to keep them on topic. Rommey's talking about the deficit, and Obama's talking about green energy policy. Scheiffer is being very hands-off about keeping them on topic - which is allowing both Obama and Romney to stick to their own tried and tested talking-points. Romney's now in the middle of his "five point plan" stump speech.

 


9:28PM

Obama has even found an opportunity to score a home policy goal: "For america to be successful in the region, we need to do things at home. We've neglected developing our own economy - it's very difficult for us to project development around the world without doing that."

Romney is still floundering, failing to find differences between himself and Obama on Egypt. "We want a peaceful planet," he says, "but for us to be able to promote peace we must be strong." He briefly mixes up Iraq and Iran. Panicking, he tries to strike out for an area he feels more comfortable - the deficit. But it's not working for him.

 


9:24PM

Romney is repeatedly denying the possibility of a role for American boots on the ground in Syria, which might come back to haunt him someday - but right here, Obama is not making the same categorical statement. He's leaving himself wide open to a direct question from Romney but he's leaving the open goal.

 


9:19PM

Second topic is Syria. "What we've done is organise the international community, saying Assad has to go," says Obama. "Everything we're doing is with our partners in the region. What we're seeing taking place in Syria is heartbreaking, and we're doing everything we can to help the opposition. But for us to get more entangled in Syria is a serious step. I am confident that Assad's days are numbered."

"Seeing Syria remove Assad is a very high priority to us," says Romney. "But we don't want ot get drawn in to a military conflict." Romney is really not bringing his A-game tonight. He's enjoying himself less, and his turns of phrase are much less confident.

 


9:13PM

Obama is immediately on the attack over Romney's Russia comments. "I know you haven't been really in a position to implement foreign policy, but every time you've expressed an opinion... you've been wrong." This is a really aggressive Obama we're seeing tonight.

"I... I don't concur with what the President said about my record, they, they don't happen to be accurate," waffles Romney. "Attacking me is not agenda. Let's stem the tide of this violence. Russia is a geopolitical foe, and I said in the same paragraph that Iran is the greatest national security threat we face. But I said to Putin that after the election he will get more backbone."

 


9:08PM

"Great to see you again" says Obama to Romney as the two shake hands.

"This is the 50th anniversary of the night President Kennedy told America that the USSR had installed missiles in Cuba," says Schieffer, introducing the debate, and then leads straight into Libya -a tough issue for both candidates. "[There is] a complete change in the structure and the environment in the middle east. With the Arab Spring came a lot of hope," says Romney, "but we're seeing a complete reversal," he says, listing Iran, Egypt's new government and the Benghazi attacks. "We can't kill our way out of this mess," he says, "but we must have a comprehensive strategy."

Obama lists his achievements; Bin Laden topping that list. "With respect to Libya, when we recieved that phone call, I made sure that we did everything to secure those in harms way, to investigate what happened, and go after those who did it and bring them to justice. But it's important to remember what happened in Libya. I took leadership in forming an international coalition, and for what we spent in two weeks in Iraq, without putting troops on the ground, we toppled Gaddafi."

 


8:55PM

The danger-points for the President tonight will be on Iran - a tricky subject for an incumbent, who wants to sound bullish but also wants to avoid an international incident - and the response to the Libyan embassy killings, where Romney will be looking to get back the ground he lost in last week's debate. Romney will also want to hit him on his apparent snub of Israeli leaders during the recent UN summit.

Romney will be looking to capitalise on his campaign-message on Chinese currency and patent controls - he calls them "cheaters" on the campaign-trail, but Obama will be looking to paint him as inexperienced, and look to imply that his sabre-rattling on Iran and China and Russia are dangerous - Romney already put American interests at risk by calling Russia "our number one geopolitical foe" back in March.

 


8:49PM

Hello and welcome to the New Statesman's live-blog of the third and final Presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in Boca Raton in the swing state of Florida. This debate, presided over by CBS's Bob Scheiffer, will be about foreign policy. No audience questions this time; Scheiffer will be asking the questions of the two candidates, who will be sat at a table in the same way as the Vice-Presidential debate - a more intimate format, and one more conducive to conflict. Should be good fun. Stay tuned.

The debate. Photograph: Getty Images

Nicky Woolf is a writer for the Guardian based in the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

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Clinton and Trump: do presidential debates really matter?

The ability of the candiates to perform in front of the cameras is unlikely to impact the final result.

The upcoming televised presidential debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are undoubtedly the most eagerly anticipated for many years. No doubt there are various surprises in store – this has been, after all, the most surprising of campaigns.

People will be particularly fascinated to see if Trump dials down his bombastic rhetoric and perhaps even adds some substance to the vague policy pronouncements he has made so far. To a lesser extent, many will also be interested in whether Clinton can add the necessary zest to what some consider her lacklustre style, and whether she can prove she’s made a sterling recovery from her recent bout with pneumonia.

It’s possible that some voters may in fact change their minds based on what they see in the two’s only on-camera encounters. And yet, barring a true disaster or devastating triumph, it’s unlikely that anything the candidates say or do will make much difference to the overall result.

This might not seem all that surprising for these two candidates in particular. Leaving aside how long they’ve both been in public life, social media and the 24-hour news cycle have put Clinton and Trump under incredible scrutiny ever since they announced their respective candidacies – and their every sentence and gesture has already been analysed in the greatest detail.

Trump in particular has received more free publicity from the networks and Twitter than even he could afford, and it’s highly unlikely that he will say anything that the US public hasn’t heard before. Similarly, voters’ impressions of Clinton are apparently so deeply entrenched that she probably won’t change many people’s minds.

Yet there are also broader reasons why presidential TV debates are less important than we might imagine.

Looking the part

Even before the media environment became as saturated as it is today, debates were rarely, if ever, decisive in presidential elections. The exception was possibly the very first TV debate in 1960, which pitted the then vice-president, Richard Nixon, against John F. Kennedy.

At the time, the election was so close that the young, relatively inexperienced but highly telegenic Kennedy was able to reap the benefits of putting his case directly to viewers. He was the underdog; a relative unknown in comparison to Nixon and so had more to gain from such national exposure. Nixon, as the establishment figure, had a lot to lose.

In the end, Kennedy’s narrow victory may well have been because of his debate performances. But his success also demonstrated another important feature of television debates: that viewers take more notice of what they see than what they hear.

Notoriously, television viewers responded very favourably to Kennedy’s film-star good looks, but were turned off by Nixon, who refused to wear make-up and looked sweaty and uncomfortable under the studio lights. In contrast, those who listened on the radio believed that Nixon had come out on top. It seems that viewers saw Kennedy as more “presidential” than Nixon, especially given his calmness under pressure. Kennedy did work hard to exploit some of Nixon’s weaknesses on policy, but in the end, that turned out not to be the point.

Kennedy’s success was one of the reasons that neither of his two successors, Lyndon B. Johnson and then a resurgent Nixon, participated in any such events when they were running for the presidency. Although some debates were held in the primaries, there were no face-to-face contests between presidential candidates in 1964, 1968 or 1972.

The next debates were held in 1976, another tight campaign. These yielded a notorious moment in the second encounter between Gerald R Ford and Jimmy Carter, when the incumbent Ford appeared to throw the election away with a poorly judged remark declaring that there was no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. As myth has it, this gaffe stalled Ford’s polling surge; he ultimately lost the election.

Yet even this was not decisive. Although the comment did the president no favours, it’s highly debatable whether it in fact had an impact on the overall result; Ford actually closed the polling gap with Carter between the debates and the general election. People’s reactions to the debate had less to do with the substance of his remark and much more with the media’s constant replay and analysis of that moment, which continues to mar Ford’s reputation to this day.

Selective memory

This pattern has continued in the election cycles that have followed, as slips and awkward moments rather than substance provide the media with dominant themes. Many people recall vice-presidential candidate Dan Quayle’s cack-handed attempt to compare himself to Kennedy in 1988, or George Bush senior’s ill-judged glance at his watch when listening to a question in 1992; few probably remember much about what policies they discussed, or whether, if they won, they carried them out.

If anything, the shortcomings of the TV debate format have become more pronounced in the current cycle. Although neither of the main candidates in this year’s election wants for national exposure, the primary debates have tended to favour the underdog and those who claim to be outsiders.

On the Republican side, Trump’s various moderate competitors were one by one hobbled and engulfed; Clinton, for her part, spent months slugging it out with her remarkably successful left-wing rival Bernie Sanders, never quite landing a televised knockout punch and ultimately only defeating him properly after six months of primaries.

While credible policy proposals seem to matter less than ever, things that would have once been considered catastrophic gaffes have become par for the course. Indeed, one could argue that Trump’s success so far is because he has built his campaign on half-truths and outright lies without care for the consequences.

So despite all the anticipation, this year’s debates probably won’t tell us very much about what will happen after the president takes office next January; the analysis will almost certainly focus less on what the candidates have to say and more on how they say it. Voters will no doubt tune in in great, possibly record-breaking numbers, but they’ll come away with precious little sense of what’s in store for their country.

Equally, the spectacles we’re about to witness might be pyrotechnic enough, but they’re unlikely to decide the result in November. And in the unlikely event that they do, it won’t be for the right reasons.

Andrew Priest is a lecturer in Modern US History at the University of Essex

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.