Call it the big Whew! After weeks of shrinking polls numbers for Hillary Clinton and small but steady gains in momentum for Donald Trump, voters were finally able to see them one on one. What they saw was a clear case why Donald Trump is not qualified to be President of the United States. More importantly, they were able to see why Hillary Clinton is.
Trump’s strongest points were twofold: First, that Hillary Clinton, after a 30+ year career in public service, represents the past, whereas he represents change. Historically, this is a change election. (And many Trump supporters and undecideds unsettlingly say the devil you don’t know is better than the devil you do know.) Second, Trump showed how squirmy Clinton is on the Trans Pacific Partnership. She didn’t do well wiggling away from her erstwhile position supporting TPP as the “gold standard” of trade pacts. Other than that, Trump showed himself to be ignorant, unpleasant, rude (sneering, interrupting his opponent, talking over her), undisciplined, aggressively obnoxious (or is that obnoxiously aggressive?) – a braggart and self-referential. A blatant liar. Totally unpresidential. (Check out the Washington Post debate fact checker for the most thorough analysis of truth versus fiction.)
Preparation matters, and Clinton was choreographed perfectly. She was steady at the helm, focused on policy, articulated a vision, drove the conversation, poked holes in Trump’s assertions while not missing an opportunity to point out his contradictions, lies, lack of substance, instability. She was pleasant, occasionally warm and humorous, poised but not studied (especially in her reaction shots), energetic, informative, not defensive. When she answered him on her missing emails, she succinctly apologized and took responsibility but didn’t allow herself to get mired in the issue. Trump surprisingly gave her a pass. All the while, she baited him to distraction.
She effectively slammed him on taxes (his pro-wealth tax plan and his refusal to disclose his own tax returns), race relations, ISIS and domestic terrorism, his “trumped up trickle down” economics, his interpretation of street crime data and wish to return to “stop and frisk” policing that a federal court just deemed unconstitutional. All these issues aside, the most enduring takeaway short term may be Clinton’s use of Trump’s coarse treatment of Miss Universe Alicia Machado and her post-pageant weight gain. It was a trifecta for Clinton, as Trump, in one move, offended women, especially those who struggle with their weight (as in, most of us) and Hispanics, and he failed to pay what he owed her, echoing his history of stiffing small business people.
There are many other subjects that were never discussed last night, including health care, immigration, and the Supreme Court. One may reasonably expect those issues to come up when the candidates meet again on October 9th. But which Donald Trump will show up on that night, and what form will his counter-punching take?
Last night’s eighty million viewers were the most ever to watch a Presidential debate. But who will be in the likely smaller audience next time? Diehard supporters, or persuadables? I look forward to the next public opinion polls to see whether and to what extent Clinton moved the needle, reclaiming some of her post convention support.
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