In the final presidential debate on Wednesday night, Donald Trump was true to form — he interrupted Hillary Clinton 37 times. Clinton only interrupted him nine times.
This was a departure from the second presidential debate, which was structured as a town hall discussion that devoted large chunks of time to audience member questions and, as a result, produced limited interruptions from either candidate — 18 from Trump and only one from Clinton. Instead, the final debate’s format allowed Trump to showcase the argumentative and combative debate tactics he is known for.
That said, Trump didn’t come anywhere close to topping his 51 interruptions in the first debate, 25 of which came in rapid fire during the first 26 minutes of the debate. And while Clinton also didn’t interrupt Trump more than she did in the first debate — she interrupted him 17 times then and only nine times tonight — she did uncharacteristically fire back tonight, giving arguably her most animated performance of the three debates.
Clinton even threw in her own snarky quip (by now a Trump trademark) when she interjected that the Trump Hotel in Las Vegas was “made with Chinese steel.”
Granted, it wasn’t nearly as biting as Trump’s own interjection that Clinton was “a nasty woman” when she said she wanted to invest more money in the Social Security trust fund as part of her commitment to raise taxes on the wealthy.
But more striking than Clinton’s uncharacteristic interjections of Trump was her unwillingness to yield the floor tonight when Trump, and even moderator Chris Wallace, tried to repeatedly talk over her.
A particularly heated exchange came when the debate focused on the candidates’ stances on invading Iraq in 2003:
TRUMP: Chris, we don't gain anything. Iran is taking over Iraq.
WALLACE: Secretary Clinton —
TRUMP: Iran is taking over Iraq.
WALLACE: Secretary Clinton —
TRUMP: We would have gained if we had surprise.
WALLACE: Secretary Clinton, it's an open discussion. Secretary, secretary, please let Mr. Trump speak. Go ahead.
CLINTON: And he proves it every time he talks.
And while Trump once again interrupted — and interjected — far more than Clinton, he also interrupted Wallace more than any other moderator in the previous two debates.
But this style of interrupting the moderator in order to challenge your opponent actually falls more in line with traditional debate decorum, showing a continuing shift in Trump’s debating style.
Meanwhile, Wallace interrupted Clinton 25 times and she only interrupted him eight times, which, again, is far fewer interruptions than her opponent.
In each of the three debates, Trump has consistently interrupted more than Clinton — three times as much in the first debate and four times as much tonight. He also has talked over the moderators far more than her.
But after three debates, it remains impossible to determine whether the interruptions we’ve seen are due to the particulars of the candidates (namely, Trump’s brash debating style) or larger gender dynamics at play (i.e., how Clinton might face specific scrutiny for pushing back on interruptions).
That said, there is a very real possibility we could be witnessing debate strategies that shape future presidential debates.