Presidential Debate #1: 5 Best Moments for Each Candidate

Though Monday night’s debate was unlikely to swing decided voters, it was seen as a crucial moment in this bizarre election campaign. Perhaps more so than the debates in any other previous Presidential race, because of the massive polarization of voters and the question over Trump’s ability to function like a “normal” politician. It could potentially win over voters that are yet undecided, or those who were going to vote 3rd party. Hillary hasn’t run away with the election like many had predicted, for a number of reasons, and in an election that looks like it is going to be much tighter than anticipated, a small portion of voters could swing the election. With that in mind I wanted to look at the 5 best moments that each candidate enjoyed during the debate, either in attack or defence.

Donald Trump’s 5 Best Moments

  • I thought one of Donald Trump’s best moment in the debate, was his slamming of the Obama administration for doubling the federal debt. Not only because of its unusually factual nature, but, because of the resonance it will have with the general public. The sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo is only amplified by statistics like this, with many Americans wondering why their quality of life hasn’t improved drastically with that level of spending.
  • Trump hammered away all night with phrases like, “Politicians like Secretary Clinton” and “what have you been doing for 30 years”; questioning why she hasn’t addressed the problems of the country during her many years in, and around, the corridors of power. He continues to feed off of the growing dissatisfaction in the country towards the establishment, and the use of phrases of this ilk only pour fuel on the fire.
  • “We cannot be the policemen of the world”, Trump laid out plans to reduce spending on NATO and overseas conflicts that have cost the US billions of dollars. He questioned why the US are defending nations like Saudi Arabia, whose GDP far outstrips the US, and who have far more threat from nations like Iraq and Syria along their borders. Excessive waste and spending has been a huge criticism that Trump has had of the Obama administration, and US governments in general. This is a popular rhetoric which was well deployed by Trump last night.
  • Although most of Trump’s best moments came in the earlier stages of the debate (before he was thrown off by Clinton’s attacks on Iraq) he did manage to garner significant support from a generally quiet crowd with the statement that “She has experience, but it’s bad experience”. This plays on the general feeling among many republicans (and ‘Bernie or Bust’ers) that Hillary may have a lot of experience in Washington, but her performance in these positions has often been less than satisfactory. The list of scandals and failed projects includes Benghazi, Whitewater, The Clinton Foundation, her 90s Healthcare reform bill, and most recently her emails. Many feel she is dishonest and cannot be trusted in a position of power and Trump does well when he manages to pick at these wounds.
  • The most effective attack that Trump managed to land on Hillary was on TPP. He was able to attack her “flip-flopping” on the issue (though a little hypocritical), assert his dissatisfaction with US trade deals and attempt to drive a wedge between her and President Obama all with one question, was the outcome of TTP President Obama’s fault? Clinton dodged and Trump persisted, she failed to provide a satisfactory answer and this was perhaps the most foolish she looked during the entire debate.


Hillary Clinton’s 5 Best Moments

  • Although Hillary seemed a little off the pace to begin with, she hit her stride whenever she managed to get under Trump’s skin. By questioning his temperament to be Commander In Chief and his cavalier attitude to nuclear weapons she was able to put him on the defensive and leave him looking foolish – “A man who can be provoked by a tweet should not have his fingers anywhere near nuclear codes”. With bonus points for the Presidential assurance that “we will honour mutual defence treaties”, she came off looking like a woman who could be President.
  • An overwhelming theme of the debate, was Donald Trump’s interruptions of Hillary Clinton, and how she dealt with them. She never let him cut in when she was trying to speak, never allowed him to bully her on the debate stage, and ultimately remained much calmer (and more “Presidential”) than her opponent. When questioned on her stamina she responded brilliant, “As soon as he travels to 112 countries and negotiates a peace deal, a cease fire, a release of dissidents, an opening of new opportunities in nations around the world, or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee he can talk to me about stamina.”
  • Another way Clinton managed to attack Trump was her questioning of his business ethics. With reference to her father’s small business she momentarily seemed more like the peoples candidate than Trump, which is a massive turnaround, especially given that she is seen as the establishment candidate. Clinton hammered him on racially charged lawsuits, bankruptcy and his attitude to debt. She even managed to reference an architect in the audience that he refused to pay (no prizes for guessing who got him a ticket).
  • Trump’s tax returns were an inevitable topic of discussion. Although it was Lester Holt’s line of questioning that brought it up, Hillary quickly jumped on board. Trump really had no good answer for why he hasn’t released them, especially after Holt brought up the fact that an audit does not mean you are forbidden from releasing them (Read my piece on fact checking and ethical media here). Clinton even mused on several reasons why not; that he didn’t actually pay any tax or maybe that he is less charitable than he claims. At any rate it is obvious Trump has something to hide. He was quick to claim he will release the tax returns when Clinton releases her 33,000 “deleted” emails (garnering one of the largest cheers of the night), though he failed to stick to that line of questioning and Clinton was able to brush it off quickly.
  • Donald Trump’s worst moment, and Hillary Clinton’s best, came when she challenged Trump on his purported opposition to the Iraq War. Trump rambled on and on in protest, looking desperate and flustered. He struggled to regain composure for quite a while afterwards and for me this moment really won the debate for Clinton. She never looked as troubled as Trump over that line of attack.

The results of the debate remain to be seen in terms of what effect it has on polling numbers; I do not personally foresee a massive swing towards Clinton despite her perceived victory. Clinton may have won the debate in terms of policy and temperament, but Trump managed to land a number of successful attacks on her and “the establishment”. Trump has got this far as the “anti-estabishment” candidate, and his “politicians like Secretary Clinton” rhetoric may be more damaging than many realise. Clinton needs to be wary of these attacks, and of more personal ones that may arise in the next 2 debates.


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