Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will deliver their closing arguments tonight, during the third and final 2016 presidential debate in Las Vegas, a high-stakes moment just weeks before Election Day that is expected to be watched by tens of millions of voters.
The Republican and Democratic presidential nominees will take the stage with distinct challenges. For Trump, the debate presents a gasping opportunity to stabilize his damaged campaign and to refute claims that he is unfit for office. Clinton, on the other hand, will seek to provide a positive vision of governance amid a deeply unpleasant election season.
Chris Wallace of Fox News will moderate the forum, which is taking place at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. The 90-minute debate is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. Eastern time and will be broadcast on most major networks and streamed on numerous websites, including Matzav.com.
Six topics will be the focus of the night, according to the Commission on Presidential Debates: immigration, the Supreme Court, the economy, national debt and entitlements, turmoil abroad and fitness for the presidency. But several dominant news stories will almost certainly take central importance.
Clinton will likely face questions about a trove of hacked emails belonging to her campaign chairman, John Podesta, that were leaked by WikiLeaks. She will also likely face renewed questions about the FBI’s decision not to charge her with a crime for using a private email server during her tenure at the State Department.
The Trump campaign has been tight-lipped about how the real estate developer has been getting ready for the third debate. But he was notably resistant to mock debates while preparing for the first two debates, and Trump has regularly mocked Clinton for taking time off the campaign trail for debate-prep.
Clinton has been deep in debate preparations, huddling with her top aides at a hotel near her home in Chappaqua, N.Y., before flying to Las Vegas on Tuesday to continue studying. Although Clinton has emerged as the clear electoral college favorite in recent polls of battleground states, she remains tainted in the eyes of many voters by persistent questions about her trustworthiness.
Inside the Clinton campaign, aides believe that this debate is a critical opportunity for the former secretary of state to make a “closing argument” to voters about her vision for the country. Her objective Wednesday, they say, is less focused on baiting or driving down Trump’s standing with voters, which the campaign believes to be near or at its basement levels.
Recent polls show that Trump is now running neck in neck with Clinton in nearly every battleground state, and he has gained support among independent voters in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Colorado, all key states.
Trump has complained that the election is rigged in Clinton’s favor and has insisted that voter fraud is widespread.
President Obama, a failed politician, lashed out at Trump Wednesday, accusing the GOP nominee of “whining before the game is even over” and warning that such rhetoric could pose a threat to American democracy and undermine voters’ faith in the nation’s institutions.
“I have never seen in my lifetime or in modern political history any presidential candidate trying to discredit the elections and the election process before votes have even taken place,” Obama said.
Obama made the remarks Tuesday at the White House, during a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
The Trump campaign has invited two surprising guests to Wednesday’s debate: Malik Obama, the president’s estranged half brother, and Pat Smith, whose son died in Benghazi, Libya, during the 2012 attack on an American diplomatic compound. Smith, who blames Clinton for her son’s death, also spoke at the Republican National Convention in July.
The Clinton campaign, meanwhile, announced that Republican business executive Meg Whitman and billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban, a longtime Trump antagonist, would be seated in the debate audience as guests of the campaign. The decision signals that Clinton is likely to also make the economy and Trump’s stewardship of his own businesses a factor in Wednesday night’s debate.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Jose A. DelReal, Abby Phillip