Let’s be honest with ourselves, Hillary won. She had a total command of the issues. The email scandal was addressed firmly and immediately – and quite effectively I might add. Her admission of a mistake and her taking full responsibility shut down the entire conversation. There was literally nowhere left to go after that, and the entire topic was dropped. Donald left it alone, basically defeated in his attempt to make it a debate issue. One of many missed opportunities for him, handled by a well-prepared Secretary Clinton.
Meanwhile, Clinton was mostly effective at digging into Trump on a range of issues. It wasn’t enough that she speculated about his not paying taxes. She was able to tie not paying taxes to his not having contributed to such things as wounded soldiers, schools and other government funded items that almost everyone can agree on. It was very effective.
When it came to his birther movement leadership, she told a personal story about how it upset the president, at once humanizing him while portraying Trump as a heartless, lying antagonist. Personally I think should could have made more of a point that the movement is inherently racist (see my previous post on the topic). She basically mentioned it was racist and moved on. Meanwhile, Trump’s answer was typical self-promotion – that he did a good job simply because he accomplished his arbitrary goal of getting a birth certificate (even though that wasn’t his goal), never mind whether it was racist or not. I’m not even sure he understood her criticism, as his response didn’t address the racist charge.
I have to admit, while I don’t agree with Donald Trump’s portraying the country as a place of doom and gloom, he was effective during the first few minutes of the debate in his attempt to do so. This was his opportunity to define his reason for running, and he was effective, by and large. It was also Hillary’s missed opportunity to rebut his assessment. The economy is better than it was 7 years ago, less people are out of work, the stock market is doing well, the military is stronger than ever, and on and on. Trump’s vision of America went largely unanswered, and I hope Clinton does a better job in the next debates of answering his rhetoric.
This last point would really be my only critique of her performance, which was, overall extremely refined and well-prepared. She was poised, articulate and knowledgeable. Who can argue with that assessment? She had answers for Trump’s criticisms and didn’t seem phased by his on-stage bullying and his repeated interruptions. She had an answer for everything, well thought-out and defensible.
Meanwhile, his zingers fell flat. His joke about getting onto Pennsylvania Avenue (one way or another) was a dud, and not delivered well. He sounded like an old coot trying to talk about cyber warfare and there were numerous other instances where he seemed to ramble as a result of not understanding the issues at hand.
Overall, it’s fair to say Secretary Clinton’s preparedness paid off. And frankly it’s difficult to imagine that the next debates will be any different. In fact, my prediction is that she’ll do better. She’ll be confident walking in, while Trump, knowing he’s faced criticism for his performance in the first round will be more aggressive and, you’ll see, will be likely to make mistakes as he undoubtedly will step up attacks on Clinton to try and earn points with his base. In the end, I expect him to sink himself, perhaps by attacking Clinton over the Lewinsky scandal, ill advised as it would seem – something he (somehow) managed to avoid in the first round.