By Kate Kearney, Managing Editor
In what was the most watched presidential debate in history, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump finally took the stage together to face off at Hofstra University. Much of the political chatter leading up to the debate centered on the expectations of each candidate. For Hillary Clinton, the expectations going into the debate were rather high. Known more as a “policy wonk” by her supporters, few doubted her ability to deliver on more detailed policy questions. Clinton also had the competitive advantage of enduring four one-on-one debates against then senator Obama in the 2008 election. The concerns? Her experience would get the best of her, making her seem out of touch and perhaps sounding too much like a typical politician. For Donald Trump, the expectations were just the opposite. Think what you want of him, but Trump has never failed to entertain on the debate stage. Trump, perhaps surprisingly, also tends to speak in a more relatable manner, talking more like the average citizen and not like the politicians we are all used to. The concern? He would perhaps be too entertaining, lacking in focus and detail in his responses. Each candidate also tried to get under each other’s skin well before they took the stage. Hillary Clinton invited billionaire and outspoken critic of Trump, Mark Cuban, to sit in the front row. Donald Trump’s response? He invited former mistress of Bill Clinton, Gennifer Flowers, to also sit in the front row. Did they show? Well, Mark Cuban did in fact attend as planned. Gennifer Flowers, on the other hand, was not in attendance. (she was also never formally invited by the Trump campaign) Too bad, it would have made even better T.V.
So what about the actual debate? I think it would be fair to say that neither candidate walked away as an absolute winner. Not exactly Miss Congeniality, Clinton displayed her usual lack of personality and emotional appeal. For someone who has historically struggled with being likable, it is surprising that her debate preparation did not include strategies to, at the very least, appear to be authentic when delivering her answers. Instead, Clinton stuck to her routine, delivering memorized lines and barely there “zingers.” Her highlights? Well for one, despite the conspiracy theories on her health, she appeared healthy and didn’t collapse during the hour-and-ahalf on stage. Clinton also successfully baited Trump with the war on Iraq, his taxes, and accusations of his treatment of women. For example, she claimed that twenty years ago Trump had called then Miss Universe “Miss Piggy” when she gained weight after she won, a point Trump has spent a lot of time defending even days after the debate. It was clear she had studied Trump weaknesses and came ready with her talking points. Overall, Clinton delivered a performance that many expected. Solid, but no memorable moments. She no doubt impressed her base, but was it enough to gain support from undecided voters? Probably not.
Trump also delivered an average performance. Despite some notable shortcomings, Trump also had worthy and effective moments. From the start, he dominated the conversation about trade agreements. Clinton has often flip-flopped regarding trade agreements, specifically with the TPP, and Trump was able to exploit this weakness. He also effectively pointed out that Clinton has had a substantial time working in politics, but has little accomplishments to show for it. As Trump noted, she has been “all talk, no action.” He probably met expectations, but I think he made a few mistakes and had too many missed opportunities. Perhaps most disappointing, is that Trump did not attack Clinton on her laundry list of vulnerabilities that have been proven to hurt her in the polls. (i.e. the email scandal, Benghazi, and the Clinton Foundation) Sure, the moderator failed to bring these issues up, but that should not have stopped Trump from doing so! A perfect opportunity to prosecute the case against Clinton is when each
candidate had been asked about cyber security. The opportunity to have pivoted to Clinton’s never-ending email scandal was given to him on a silver platter, yet he didn’t take it. Maybe he is saving material for the second and third debate? Overall, Trump should have made quicker and more frequent pivots to Clinton’s record whenever he could, instead of defending himself against Clinton’s accusations. But hey, he isn’t a life long politician. Overall his performance did not hurt him, but like Clinton, it probably was not a performance that would attract undecided voters.
Also subjected to much criticism was the debate moderator, Lester Holt of NBC. The topics of the debate were America’s direction, achieving prosperity, and securing America. Despite the set topics, Holt asked Trump completely unrelated questions. For example, during what was supposed to be the securing America segment, Holt asked Trump what he meant when he said Hillary does not look presidential. What does that have to do with securing America? Further, throughout the course of the night Trump’s answers were challenged with follow-up questions six times. In contrast, Clinton wasn’t asked a single follow-up question during the entire duration of the hour-and-a-half debate. Was he biased? I will let you decide.
The second presidential debate will be a completely different format. Unlike the first and third debate, the second debate will be a town hall format. Best part? Ordinary Americans, get to influence what questions the candidates will be asked. That means you can get involved! Americans will be able to submit and then vote on questions online at PresidentialOpenQuestions.com, where the top questions will be considered. Selected guests attending the town hall will also be able to pose questions to the candidates directly. It will definitely be worth watching!