Monday evening’s Presidential Debate was arguably the most highly anticipated, polarizing, and watched political event of the last quarter century. Billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump, the GOP’s nominee, took on the most experienced and ambitious politicians in modern America.
The major storyline leading up to the debate would be how Donald Trump would fare one on one, with no audience interruption, for ninety minutes in a general election debate. Trump proved he could stand up there for a debate, but also showed he was less informed on the depth of policy when compared to Clinton.
Expectations for Trump’s performance were about as low as possible for a major party’s candidate, after he won the screaming match that was the Republican Primary by avoiding in-depth answers on any policy questions, but Trump actually came into the night leading the general election according to several major polls.
As for Clinton, the former Senator and Secretary of State had a lot of pressure to dissolve rumors of her demise. The presumptive Oval Office favorite for months, Clinton saw her lead disappear in the weeks following her health scares on 9/11. Additionally, because of her experience in Washington, Clinton was expected to blow Trump out of the water on policy points- particularly in foreign affairs.
Polls, and ultimately the actual election, will tell how well the voting population received each candidate’s messages, but looking back on the debate immediately afterwards leads me to think that no one will enjoy a favorable bounce.
Before the debate even began though, the hype surrounding the other aspects of the evening were being heavily addressed.
The question of how involved moderator Lester Holt would be was a main topic of conversation amongst both parties. Throughout the week, Clinton and many Democrats actively pushed for Holt to “fact-check on the fly”, whereas the Republican base insisted that this interrupts the flow of the debate and would only lead to a pigeonholing of Trump that Clinton would not be subjected to.
This comes off the heels (sort of) of a 2012 debate in which moderator Candy Crowley actively helped President Obama by mistakenly correcting a statement by Mitt Romney, which actually turned out to be more truthful than incorrect.
On the night, Holt was quite unobtrusive. The first topic of the night ended up lasting much longer than expected, and Trump continued to interrupt Clinton when she attacked his campaign. Holt admitted to being way behind schedule, and did not interrupt or fact check with any urgency. It would not be a stretch to say that Holt lost control of the debate at moments, and failed to keep it focused on policy. However, Holt undoubtedly spent more time attacking and re-questioning Trump than he did with Clinton.
The pre-debate action also saw some “drama” with the two nominees invitees. Clinton invited vocal anti-Trump billionaire Mark Cuban to sit front row, which prompted Trump to jokingly remark that he might invite Gennifer Flowers- one of Bill Clinton’s mistresses. Flowers accepted the invitation, and the Trump team then clarified that that invitation was a joke before inviting Mark Geist. Geist, who sat front row as well, was a survivor of the 2012 Islamic militant attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi. This is notable because of Hillary Clinton’s status as Secretary of State at the time.
After all the pre-debate showmanship though, the two candidates got down to business. Holt started the evening by reminding us that the ninety minute debate would be divided into six fifteen minute sections, without a break in between any of them. The first topic of the night centered on how the candidates would create jobs for American workers.
Trump continued to talk about how he would bring back manufacturing jobs via lower corporate tax rates and tariffs for imports into America. He continued to press manufacturing companies to stay in America, which he assured would happen under his economic plans. Trump also denounced Clinton’s previous support (which she has since redacted) of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
Clinton promised to continue the economic plans of the Obama administration, mentioning that college should be more affordable, more regulations for big business, a minimum wage increase, and attacked Trump for his business record. Her most memorable line was her description of Trump’s tax plan as “Trumped-Up Trickle-Down” economics. Clinton is not a supporter of a flat tax rate, whereas Trump is.
At one point, Clinton admitted her mistake of using a private email server during her time as Secretary of State, hoping to put an end to that conversation. Trump attacked her and her staff’s recent pleading of the fifth by calling the whole debacle “disgraceful”.
Then next topic brought up was the current state of race relations in the United States. Clinton kicked things off by saying that police need to be taught and trained to use force more sparingly, and that gun violence needs to be stopped. Clinton alluded to gun restrictions.
Trump started off by saying two of his favorite words, “LAW and ORDER”. He then went on to speak of the disastrous state of inner cities, talking about gang violence and the state of unrest. Trump then went on to say that a “stop and frisk” policy by police in the more violent inner cities would be something that he would endorse as it turned New York City around murder wise in the late twentieth century. Holt then questioned the racial profiling issue of this, which Trump would not address.
Clinton attacked Trump’s “more police” rhetoric by saying that there is inherent racism in the law enforcement profession, and then preached that police profiles minorities in America regularly. Agreeing with Trump, Clinton talked about getting dangerous “military style guns” off the streets.
Holt then asked one of his biggest questions of the night, asking Clinton if there is “an implicit bias toward black men by police”. Clinton said that she believed all people had some form of bias, and that more police training and mental health assistance would help to build a better police community. Additionally, Trump made a point to agree with a previous Clinton point about not allowing those on “no fly” lists or terrorist watch lists to buy guns.
Lester Holt then began to question Trump about his probing on Obama’s birth certificate in the past, which showed Trump beat around the bush for a while, before the segment moved along.
The third topic was cyber security. Clinton was the first to speak, and condemned Russia for using cyber attacks against organizations in our country, while simultaneously saying Trump was enticing them too. Trump responded by mentioning the hacks to the DNC’s email servers that showed the committee having preferences toward Clinton in the primary process. Both timidly mentioned that they need tighter cyber security in the United States.
The security conversation then shifted toward ISIS and the recent terrorist attacks on US soil. Trump first mentioned the formation of ISIS was a result of the power vacuum created in the region when Clinton and Obama pulled the US armed forces out of Iraq.
Trump’s next major talking point was the failure of many NATO countries to pay their fair share of fees for US protection under the deal. He then clarified a position, saying he would not repeal NATO but would push for a stronger push against terror, especially against ISIS.
Trump then tried to push for an attack against Hilary and her temperament and desires for office, which Hilary ignored and used to talk about her experiences as Secretary of State in regards to solving problems diplomatically. She went on to emphasize, “America’s word is good”- calling out the unknown and potentially hap-hazardous nature of what might be a Trump presidency.
In closing remarks, Clinton tried to attack Trump for sexist remarks that he has said throughout the last thirty or so years. Trump rebutted them as false and drew a large round of applause from one section of the crowd. Both then said that they would support the other if they were to lose the election.
To declare a winner, Clinton clearly looked more “Presidential” and had better prepared answerers. She flaunted her strengths as an experienced politician, and showcased her immense knowledge. So in any other year, Clinton clearly would be the victor.
But Trump is a different animal, and because his expectations were so low it is hard to say if Clinton will benefit much from being better prepared. Trump showed he could in fact come up with answers to policy questions, but mainly appealed to his base. It did not appear that Trump was able to step across the aisle to lure independents or “Rockefeller Republicans” into his camp, but his strategy to appeal to the non-college educated vote and those worried about immigration and trade certainly showed.
This debate will not decide the election, and I doubt poll numbers will drastically be different a week from today. However, Clinton did “win” this debate.