The third and final debate of the 2016 presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump focused on various issues of concern to many evangelical Christians: the U.S. Supreme Court, abortion, immigration, personal character and ongoing turmoil in the Middle East.
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas, hosted the 90-minute debate between Clinton, the Democratic nominee, and Trump, the Republican nominee. Chris Wallace, host of "Fox News Sunday," moderated the event.
Wallace opened the evening by asking each candidate about their vision for the Supreme Court and how it should interpret the U.S. Constitution.
Clinton replied that she felt the election's "central issue" was "What kind of country are we going to be?" She asserted her commitment to "not reverse marriage equality" or the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion on demand. She added that her nominees "would be in the great tradition of standing up to the powerful ... on behalf of our rights as Americans."
Trump's reply focused on his intention to nominate candidates who are pro-life, "have a conservative bent" and will protect citizens' Second Amendment rights to bear arms. His appointees "will interpret the Constitution the way the founders wanted."
Wallace followed up with a direct question about overturning the Roe v. Wade ruling.
Trump said his appointment of pro-life justices would result in that ruling being overturned and the issue of abortion returning to state jurisdiction. He also noted his disapproval of late-term abortion, saying it allowed a baby to "be ripped out of the womb in the ninth month, on the final day" [of a pregnancy].
Clinton said "using that kind of scare rhetoric is just terribly unfortunate" and called a woman's decision to abort "heartbreaking and painful." She said the country "has gone too far to turn back now" on the abortion issue and pledged to defend both the Roe v. Wade decision and funding for Planned Parenthood, America's leading abortion provider.
On the issue of immigration, Wallace asked the candidates to explain why their position was right and the opponent's was wrong.
Trump reiterated his call to build a wall on the United States' border with Mexico and decried providing amnesty to illegal immigrants as "very unfair to all of the people waiting in line for many, many years" to enter legally. Later in the debate, he described Syrian immigration as a "Trojan horse" allowing terrorists aligned with the Islamic State to infiltrate the United States.
Clinton, for her part, said she supported border security legislation, including a wall "in some limited places where that was appropriate." She added, however, that she didn't "want to rip families apart" or see a "massive law enforcement presence ... rounding up people who are undocumented." She asserted her intention to bring "undocumented immigrants out from the shadows ... into the formal economy" so employers "can't exploit them and undercut Americans' wages."
Wallace's question about the candidates' personal character and fitness for office unleashed a barrage of criticisms and rebuttals from Trump and Clinton.
Asked specifically about accusations he had sexually abused women, Trump insisted "those stories are all totally false" and said he believed Clinton's campaign was behind the allegations. Clinton countered that she believed women had come forward with accusations against him because Trump had made comments that misbehavior with them was "impossible" because they were unattractive.
Clinton was asked directly about recent email disclosures that reveal Clinton Foundation donors received favors from the State Department. She replied, "Everything I did as secretary of state was in furtherance of our country's interests and our values." She said the foundation was "a world-renowned charity" with "the highest ratings from the watchdogs."
Wallace also asked the candidates to comment on the turmoil in the Middle East.
Clinton said she supports the current military effort in Iraq to drive Islamic State forces from Mosul and wanted to see the war pressed on into Syria to the IS stronghold of Al-Raqqah. She said she did not support American soldiers being used as an occupying force in the event IS is defeated. She reiterated support for a negotiated no-fly zone in Syria that "could save lives and ... hasten the end of the conflict."
Trump blamed Clinton for Mosul falling into Islamic State hands in the first place, after U.S. troops were withdrawn from Iraq. He claimed Iran would step into the power vacuum if the city is liberated. He also blamed the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo, Syria, on Clinton's decision to back Syrian rebels and allow the country's president, Bashar al-Assad, to align himself with Russia and Iran.
The presidential election will be held Nov. 8.
Mark Kelly is a career Southern Baptist journalist and freelance writer in Marietta, Ga.