The 2016 presidential debates are now (finally?) over. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton spared over trade policy, Vladimir Putin, Trump’s business record, his statements about women, his taxes, Clinton’s e-mails, and her foundation.
But amazingly there were a number of issues that didn’t come up during even one in the three presidential debates, despite their being of national importance. Nevertheless, what the candidates didn’t say about these topics hold important clues about how they will govern and what priorities are important to them.
Here’s a list of the most surprising issues that didn’t come up in any of the three presidential debates.
1. Climate Change
In a number of the Democratic primary debates, Bernie Sanders said climate change was the biggest challenge facing America. In the Clinton-Trump presidential debates, though, concerns about climate change, and what to do about it was (the flash in the pan of Ken Bone aside) essentially non-existent. The absence is interesting not just because Sanders made it a big issue, but because it has been a big issue in past presidential elections. Barack Obama and John McCain sparred over their cap and trade plans to tax pollution. And the Keystone Pipeline has been an issue that has dogged President Obama politically.
What’s more, as Vox pointed out, climate change is a big, big deal. If you are worried about major issues that may cause some serious trouble, global warming should be on that list. And it’s not like the candidates don’t have some defined positions on what to do about climate change that could be debated. Clinton wants half a billion solar roof top solar panels installed on American homes by the end of her first term. Trump has tweeted that global warming is a fabrication invented by the Chinese, which was talked about during a debate, but really in the context of “things Donald Trump says” and not as an actual policy stance.
2. Wall Street Regulation
Wall Street and the big banks was a big issue in both the Democratic and Republican primaries. One Democratic primary debate featured a lengthy discussion on Glass Steagall. But in the presidential debates the candidates didn’t even come close to trading barbs on such banking regulation arcana like Basel III (It’s an international standard for capital ratios. Jamie Dimon once called it un-American.).
That’s surprising because the fact that the big banks have too much power is an issue that ever since the financial crisis has resonated with a majority of Americans on both sides of the political divide. And it’s an issue that Clinton is vulnerable on. Being a former senator from New York, she is seen as close to Wall Street and the big bank, in particular Goldman Sachs, and it was an issue that Sander hit her on in the primary.
What’s more, Clinton’s financial regulation proposal seems to focus on the wrong area. She doesn’t want to repeal Dodd-Frank, the banking law passed in the wake of the financial crisis, but she would like to reform it, mostly by taxing the big banks more. But her big shinning issue was to more closely regulate the “shadow banks,” which sound scary, but are lenders that are not technically banks, and not generally large enough to cause widespread economic problems. What’s more, proposing to regulate the shadow banks plays right into the narrative that Clinton is in the pocket of Wall Street. The big banks would like smaller lenders to be more heavily regulated as well to make them less competitive.
Trump says he would like to repeal Dodd-Frank, but he hasn’t said what he would like to replace it with, which could be why he never brought it up.
Analysts who follow Wall Street regulation have already said that the debates show that Wall Street and the big banks, after years of spotlight, can finally exhale. The fact that banks and Too-Big-To-Fail didn’t come up in an significant way in three closely watched presidential debates means that banks are likely to get a pass from the next president, no matter who is elected on Novmber 8.
3. Black Lives Matter
Black Lives Matter was an actual question in one of the Republican primary debates, and an anticipated one. The candidates had to go one by one answering if they thought black lives matter. In the presidential debates: Not so much. The issue of cop violence, and bias, did come up in the vice presidential debate, but Republican VP dismissed it by citing the example of Keith Lamont Scott, a black man who was shot by a black police officer. Trump is for stop and frisk, the controversial police strategy that was ruled unconstitutional in New York, and says that would save black and hispanic lives. Trump has also said, in a seeming appeal to African Americans, that the inner cities are dangerous and need to be cleaned up.
None of these appeals appear to actually resonated with African American voters who polls show will largely vote for Clinton, which is why, unfortunately, we probably didn’t hear much about them in the three debates.