Of the three debates held thus far on the presidential and vice presidential level, the moderating on Sunday night from St. Louis was easily the best.
But the performance by CNN's Anderson Cooper and ABC News's Martha Raddatz wasn't exactly what one would call exemplary, particularly by the latter.
First, it should be said that the good outweighed the bad: both Cooper and Raddatz finally did what NBC's Lester Holt and CBS's Elaine Quijano wouldn't do in the first presidential and only vice presidential debates of the cycle: actually broach some, but not all, of the top three biggest vulnerabilities of the Democrat in the room.
First question to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits Biden sends 'best wishes' to Clinton following hospitalization The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Jan. 6 panel flexes its muscle MORE via Raddatz: "And Secretary Clinton, I do want to follow up on emails. You said your handling of your emails was a mistake. You disagreed with the director — FBI Director James Comey — calling your handling of classified information, quote, ‘extremely careless.’ The FBI said that there are 110 classified emails that were exchanged, eight of which were top secret and that a possible hostile actor did gain access to those emails. You don’t call that extremely careless?"
Not one question was directly asked of Clinton on emails in the first debate, nor was it broached in this fashion in the second debate. Quijano did make a passing reference to the email scandal when asking Democratic VP nominee Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineFill the Eastern District of Virginia Defense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' MORE about Clinton's trustworthiness, but nothing specifically about the leaking or mishandling of classified information. Clinton's answer was basically the same as we've heard over the past several months — I made a mistake, it won't happen again — and wasn't pressed on it by anyone other than Donald TrumpDonald TrumpMcAuliffe takes tougher stance on Democrats in Washington Democrats troll Trump over Virginia governor's race Tom Glavine, Ric Flair, Doug Flutie to join Trump for Herschel Walker event MORE. More on that later.
First question to Trump via Cooper: "We received a lot of questions online, Mr. Trump, about the tape that was released on Friday, as you can imagine. You called what you said ‘locker room banter.’ You described kissing women without consent, grabbing their genitals. That is sexual assault. You brag that you have sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?"
Trump would receive one more question — rightly so, given the "Access Hollywood" hot mic audio is arguably the biggest revelation of this campaign season — on the grabbing comment as a follow-up via a Facebook question. By asking these questions first, it got the elephant out of the room quickly that otherwise would have been a major distraction to those watching at home waiting for it to be asked.
Cooper doggedly pressed Trump to answer if he ever followed through on his rhetoric until Trump — who repeatedly called it "locker room talk" — answered no.
Some on Twitter thought Cooper was being too aggressive here. He wasn't, if you were assuming he would be just as dogged with Clinton throughout the debate on questions she deflected or evaded.
Back to Clinton: she also was forced to defend ObamaCare, the president's signature achievement and also a fleeting topic in the first two debates.
Audience question: "The Affordable Care Act, known as ObamaCare. It is not affordable. Premiums have gone up. Deductibles have gone up. Co-pays have gone up. Prescriptions have gone up. And the coverage has gone down. What will you do to bring the costs down and make coverage better?"
Cooper's follow-up — and a good one, given how recently the Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBill Clinton expected to be released from hospital on Sunday Democratic incumbents bolster fundraising advantage in key Senate races Biden giving stiff-arm to press interviews MORE comment was made: "Secretary Clinton, let me follow up with you. Your husband called ObamaCare 'the craziest thing in the world,' saying that small-business owners are getting killed as premiums double, coverage is cut in half. Was he mistaken or was his mistake simply telling the truth?"
Add it all up in the first 45 minutes of the debate, and two of three of Clinton's biggest vulnerabilities were broached. But one big one — one that hadn't been raised in the first two debates — was still noticeably absent.
Back to Trump. As expected throughout the evening, he continually accused both Cooper and Raddatz of siding with Clinton against him, even at one point muttering, “One on three.”
But overall, the questions were tough on both candidates. More importantly, as we witnessed in prior debates, the candidates (relatively) weren't allowed to control the debate in terms of time and tangents. And the audience mostly stayed out of it outside of some applause early on after getting scolded by both moderators. Well done.
Now, on to the bad.
If one were to look at Clinton's biggest vulnerabilities, qualifying for one of the top two spots would have to be the Clinton Foundation.
The reasons are plentiful: the access donors received, the appointments given to donors, donations in return for speeches from Bill Clinton, and the donations from foreign governments, just to name a few items on the laundry list.
But have any of these vulnerabilities been broached by Raddatz, Cooper, Holt, Quijano? Nope.
And this isn't cherry-picking. There is no argument here. The Clinton Foundation has been a huge story throughout this campaign. And after more than 270 minutes of debate, aside from that general question posed to Kaine in the VP debate referred to earlier, not one question has specifically been asked about it. Not one. And that's just inexplicable, particularly when every one of Trump's vulnerabilities — tax returns, comments about women, birtherism — have been singled out on multiple occasions.
Another gripe: Raddatz jumped in to actually debate Trump on two occasions, the most notable happening during an exchange about telegraphing military operations to the enemy.
Trump: “Why do they have to say we're going to be attacking Mosul within the next four to six weeks, which is what they're saying? How stupid is our country?”
Raddatz: "There are sometimes reasons the military does that. Psychological warfare."
Trump: "I can't think of any. I can't think of any. And I'm pretty good at it."
Raddatz: "It might be to help get civilians out."
Sorry. Raddatz did exactly what Trump accused her of earlier: became a debate opponent. Clinton, who served as a secretary of State, could have broached Raddatz's point instead if she so chose. Or the ABC News moderator could have simply pivoted to Clinton on the next question and asked if she agreed with Trump's perspective.
Regarding follow-ups, Clinton was given a pass on almost every answer, particularly on why she deleted 33,000 emails. Trump asked the question directly, but Raddatz and Cooper — if challenging Trump in the way they did was the strategy with him — should have done the same with the Democratic nominee in the name of fairness and consistency.
Overall grade for Cooper: B+
Overall grade for Raddatz: B-
Fox News's Chris Wallace is up next, Oct. 19 in Las Vegas.
Here's hoping that he's been watching and learning from all the rights and wrongs he's seeing from the moderator side to this point.
Concha is a media reporter for The Hill.
The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.