Money & Politics

Last Night: Debating the Merits of the Third Debate

Moyers' contributors deliver their verdicts and reactions on the third and final debate.

Last Night: Debating the Merits of the Third Debate


In this special debate-night edition of “Last Night,” our ongoing effort to monitor how politics is covered on prime-time television, some of our subject-matter experts join our regular media critics to offer their reactions and reviews.


What We Didn’t Hear at the Debate

“In a debate that will be most remembered for Donald Trump’s diss of democracy, there was little said about the anxieties that appear to be undermining it. Big questions about the old economy and new economy were not addressed.” Read more by John Russo, visiting scholar at the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and Working Poor at Georgetown University.

Breaking the Fourth Wall of Democracy

“There is a ‘money election,’ which has a disproportionate impact on who can even stand on a general election debate stage. However, I would never argue that the winner in a privately funded election was not democratically elected. Instead, what I want are elections where campaign money does not play such an outcome determinative and limiting role in our democratic process.” Read more by Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, author and professor of law at Stetson University.

Notes From a Nasty Woman

“Okay, I was wrong… I could not believe there was anything left in this campaign to either startle or inform me. Had no idea that even one little remaining gem might emerge from the nastiest political campaign I’ve ever witnessed.” Read more by Lynn Sherr, contributor.

Watching a Dark Debate From the City of Light

“If I believed there ever was any chance of escaping the US election by running away to France for a week of business meetings and a little off time, all hope was dashed the moment we stepped into a cab at Charles de Gaulle Airport and the driver immediately started grilling us about Donald Trump.” Read more by Michael Winship, senior editor,

When Trump Goes Low, the Media Go Lower

“We have had unqualified, extremist Republican candidates before; just look at Ronald Reagan, who thought air pollution was caused by plants and trees…And the obvious conclusion to be drawn from the conduct of [Trump’s] campaign is that our media are not remotely equipped to handle him.” Read more by Eric Alterman, CUNY distinguished professor of English and journalism at Brooklyn College, media columnist for The Nation.

Now the Nadir

“With Trump plummeting in the polls and his campaign all but doomed, we were bracing for Trump’s Greatest Hits: every mean, ugly, cockamamie, untrue, racist, misogynistic, nativist, xenophobic, anti-intellectual utterance he has ever made, remastered for a gullible media. We braced for the most dispiriting moment in modern American politics. We braced for the nadir.” Read more by Neal Gabler, contributor,

What Kind of Republican is Donald Trump?

“Voters now have a clear sense of what our two candidates stand for, and the Republican candidate is unlike any that we have seen before.” Read more by Simon Johnson, professor of economics at MIT and former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund.

The Ultimate ‘Bad Hombre’

“Donald Trump’s disdain for undocumented people bubbled over again during the last presidential debate of 2016. Is he so intent on Trump TV that he wants to expand Hillary Clinton’s edge with the nation’s 27 million eligible Latino voters?” Read more by Emily Schwartz-Greco, contributor,

Keeping Us In Suspense

“Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice-like answer is dominating the headlines and discussions of his debate performance. Sadly, it proved to be one more outrage in a series of debates that have moved about as far from the Lincoln-Douglas ideal as is possible.” Read more by Sean Posey, contributor,

Out of Step With the American People on Social Security

Donald Trump is — deservedly — dominating the headlines from the third and final presidential debate for being out of touch with reality. But it was moderator Chris Wallace who won first prize last night for being out of touch with the American public. When it finally came time for a question on Social Security, with just a few minutes left on the clock, Wallace asked the candidates to discuss their plans for… cutting benefits.

While political polarization in this country remains at historic heights, as a 2014 poll by the Pew Research Center showed starkly, protecting Social Security from cuts is one of the rare areas of widespread agreement, with a whopping two-thirds of Americans opposing cutting benefits in any way. Polling from the nonpartisan National Academy of Social Insurance goes farther, finding that large majorities of Americans — across party lines, income levels and age groups — not only oppose cutting benefits but want to see benefits expanded — and are willing to pay more to see that happen.

This shouldn’t be surprising given the critical role that Social Security plays in the lives of millions of Americans, including protecting some 21 million from poverty last year. Yet many in the mainstream media — debate moderators included — turn a blind eye to what Americans actually want when it comes to this program, insisting that cuts are necessary to ensure its continued strength. Here’s hoping by the time we’re cueing up the presidential debates in 2020 that we can finally congratulate our media for catching up to where the voters are on this important issue. — Rebecca Vallas, managing director for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress.