So… that happened. After the amount of hype surrounding the first presidential debates of the season a potentially record breaking audience was treated to a spectacle which wasn’t nearly as explosive as expected and likely left a lot of people wanting more. The inevitable question is, “who won?” This was such an otherworldly experience compared to past presidential debates that the results will largely be in the eye of the beholder. Both sides will have a case to make in saying their candidate “won” the contest, but if you were waiting for a 2016 Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy moment you were sorely disappointed.
For me, picking a winner would largely depend which section of the debate you watched or assigned the most weight. If you only tuned in for the first thirty minutes, Trump came out on top. In the final thirty minutes it seemed as if Trump had lost interest in (or patience with) the entire affair and gave Clinton too much free room to run, so she seemed to do better. In the middle half hour the discussion became so muddled that we’d all have probably gotten more out of it by switching over to a YouTube video of Statler and Waldorf’s greatest hits from Sesame Street.
There were some highlights (or lowlights, depending on your preferences) which voters may find stuck in their minds while pondering the decision to be made in November. One of the big ones came early in the evening when Trump attacked Clinton on the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal and she attempted to claim that she’d never been a cheerleader for it.
Clinton, denying Donald Trump’s claim that she called the TPP the “gold standard” of trade agreements responded, “I did say I hoped it would be a good deal.”
That’s patently false and Trump was accurate in his claim.
As secretary of state, Clinton called the deal that was taking shape the “gold standard” of trade agreements, in a 2012 trip to Australia, and championed the agreement in other venues around the world. She did not merely express the hope that it would turn out well.
Almost without question, the one area where Trump has the upper hand is on the issue of crime and the police. Police unions have backed him and Americans by and large support and depend on law enforcement. Their argument over what to do about police community relations went to Trump in a lopsided victory. There was also this comment from Clinton regarding the original crime bill:
“It did not do what it needed to do. Now, I believe in community policing and, in fact, violent crime is one-half of what it was in 1991. Property crime is down 40%. We don’t want to see it creep back up. We’ve had 25 years of very good cooperation, but there were some problem, some unintended consequences.”
Clinton played down the rising violence in our nation’s cities and preferred to focus on thinly disguised inferences that the police are the problem. Of course, this was an inopportune day to make such claims given that the FBI just released their crime statistics for 2015 and violent crime rates actually rose for the first time in quite a while. Sadly, Trump failed to exploit that advantage fully.
The biggest missed opportunity of the night came in the opening segment when the candidates were asked about jobs. Clinton immediately jumped into the expanded role that “clean renewable energy” would play in job creation. Trump completely failed to leap on that and call her out. The real job growth taking place is in natural gas and shale development while wind and solar still rely on taxpayer funding to prop them up. That subject alone could take up an entire debate, but Donald Trump let that one sail over the plate for the most part.
There were also far too many hot topics which were never brought up by the moderator and Trump equally failed to find ways to slip them into the conversation. Where was the question about the now infamous “Basket Of Deplorables” and Clinton’s opinion of so much of the country? There was also very little said in reference to Clinton’s health. I’m not talking about theories regarding any specific medical conditions she’s been dealing with, but rather her clearly proven lies and zero transparency regarding the 9/11 incident. That sort of dishonesty to the American people was worthy of examination.
In terms of policy, why was there no exploration of her unfettered support of Obamacare in light of the exchanges which are shut down or going out of business, providers leaving the program and rising costs? How is that not a subject worthy of discussion? Also, back on the energy and jobs front, why did Lester Holt not find it worth his time to ask Clinton about her promise to “put the coal industry out of work” and end fracking? There was also scant attention paid to the Clinton Foundation and potential conflicts of interest arising from all the pay for play that was going on there.
In the end, this was a festival of missed opportunities for Donald Trump and a capable, if not memorable performance for Clinton, who could have come of far, far worse if either the moderator or her opponent had prosecuted her more thoroughly. It’s something of a split decision, so perhaps Ed Morrissey was correct last night to ask if a draw goes to the challenger. We’ll know by this weekend when the first round of post-debate polls comes out.