The Final Presidential Debate: Hooray and Who Cares?

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large
Yahoo TV

The final presidential debate is on Wednesday night, and you can feel the excitement in the air. No, wait: that’s not excitement — it’s exhaustion. That’s what you can feel in the air, and on the air: People are tired of this election, both regular citizens and the citizens-elite who bring regular citizens the news.

Certainly, the debate will be a significant event, because whatever crazy stuff Donald Trump says or does will dominate the news cycle for at least the, oh, 24 hours that follow — that is, until Trump says or does something else that has no foundation in reality but stirs up the populace and the TV talking heads.

The final debate will be moderated by Chris Wallace, THE FIRST FOX NEWS HOST TO MODERATE A PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE. I’ve capitalized that factoid to convey just how much Fox News wants you to know about Wallace’s achievement. They are very enthused about Wallace moderating, in every Fox day-part, from Fox and Friends to The Kelly File. (From Sean Hannity, there is muted acceptance — one senses that Sean thought his pal Donald was going to rig this one so Hannity could moderate it, but, oh darn, it just didn’t work out.)

Beyond Fox’s exciting Chris Wallace news, the debate seems to be inspiring little more than professional dread from everyone on TV except Alec Baldwin and those Saturday Night Live writers who’ll be pre-popping bowls of popcorn to be ready to transcribe Wednesday’s debate for this Saturday’s cold-open sketch. In these days leading up to the debate, there’s a certain amount of exasperation leaking through the screen. There are times when I’d swear poor Jake Tapper is biting a hole in his CNN cheek when he has to listen to the robotic chatter of Trump surrogate Kayleigh McEnany rattle through her talking points for the umpteenth time.

Related: I Agree With Trump About SNL

On Monday’s Late Show, Stephen Colbert asked Bill O’Reilly what advice he would give the candidates for Wednesday night. O’Reilly said that Clinton should “ignore” Trump. If only the rest of us could. Bill said Hillary needs to directly address viewers “to say, ‘I’m not as bad as I’ve been portrayed. … I’m not this Dragon Lady.'” O’Reilly agreed with Colbert that Trump tends not to answer questions asked of him, although neither guest nor host acknowledged that this does rather put a crimp in — what do they call it? — the rules of debate.

I get the feeling that right now, the viewing audience just wants to get out and vote, and get this damn thing over with. Of course, covering the voting process is only going to open up new cans of worms. On Monday on MSNBC, Chris Jansing was on the ground in early-voting Georgia, noting the long lines. Did any viewer doubt that these eager voters were lining up to cast their pre-dawn, morning-in-America ballots for Trump? Alas, no such post-vote analysis that might answer this question was offered.

On Wednesday night, I predict a Trump-Clinton exchange about impending voter fraud — Trump will assert it, Clinton will point out it barely exists, and Chris Wallace will beg both candidates to please answer the question he really asked, which was about Iraq and the retaking of Mosul. It’s been that kind of debate season.

The final presidential debate airs Wednesday night at 9 p.m. ET on all major networks.