The first presidential debate of the 2016 election was billed as possibly the most momentous evening in American politics and it certainly delivered in some sense.
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton faced off in the first of a series of three such sparring matches scheduled for this fall, attacking each other on past statements and policies. The debate was theoretically moderated by NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt; however, his presence in the debate, save for a few rare moments, essentially amounted to attempting to reassert control over the proceedings only to be ignored.
Trump began the debate in a surprisingly lethargic manner, and for the first half of the debate could be heard loudly sniffling into the microphone during his speeches. However, as the debate wore on, he began to pick up steam, eventually morphing into the same loud, outspoken persona that won him the nomination. Meanwhile, Clinton remained more or less constant in her tone and temperament throughout.
So who won the debate?
The debate began with a discussion of economics, which was clearly Trump’s strong point. The two candidates were more or less even on this front, with Trump citing Clinton’s support of the ineffective North American Free Trade Agreement and Clinton attacking Trump’s apparent support of “trickle-down” economic policies.
However, from there the debate moved onto the topic of race, and from there Clinton only gained momentum. As the two discussed topics including cybersecurity, ISIS and international relations, Clinton proved herself more than capable of ignoring Trump’s attempts to derail her arguments. In several cases, she was able to bait Trump into undertaking long, incoherent rants against the state of the country.
While Clinton’s own performance was only middling at best–she missed several opportunities to utilize lines of attack gifted to her by Trump’s rambling rhetoric, while also leaving herself open to attack too often–she was leaps and bounds ahead of her opponent, who at times looked as though he had no idea what he was doing. Clinton may be a highly divisive figure, but at the very least she understands the importance of civility and proper debate practice. As such, it seems clear that Clinton came out of the debate the indisputable victor.
The next debate will be held in St. Louis in just under two weeks. If Trump hopes to regain the momentum he has lost, he will need to make significant strides toward refining his debate style.
Image Credit: Zachary Robinson