First Presidential Debate: The good, the bad and the ugly

By Eric Emmons, Staff Writer –

Source: Washington Post
Source: Washington Post

This week’s historic debate between two of the most controversial candidates in the history of American politics, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, was definitely unique.

Yet as the debate wrapped up, many questions arose regarding who won, or what the candidates could have done better.

Trump started off well. He was reserved, quieter than in previous public appearances and seemed to hold his composure well. The first 10 minutes of the debate were all Trump as he had Clinton scrambling to defend herself. In the beginning he was on the offensive and for the most part when he was on the offensive, he did well.

He also brought up the lack of change that had occurred in foreign policy under Obama and tied Clinton to it. This was one of Trump’s strongest points and one of the highlights for him in this debate. He effectively tied Clinton to the failing economy and foreign policy of Obama. He used her experience with minimal effect as a weapon against her and it seemed to work.

However… and it’s a big however… though Trump started off cool-headed, he soon got riled up as he went down rabbit trails that Clinton happily set up for him. This was his biggest mistake, as he then avoided answering the questions and spent more time trying to rebut what she accused him of.

He spent far too much time in the second half of the debate attacking and interrupting Clinton as well as Lester Holt, the NBC journalist who moderated the debate. Trump definitely did not spend enough time answering questions and challenging Clinton. He also let a lot of opportunities escape such as focusing on the Clinton Foundation scandals, which were incredibly vulnerable spots in Clinton’s past and could have put her back on the defensive.

On the other hand, what did Clinton do well? She had obviously rehearsed much and had a lot of ammunition to use against him. She was able to build on her years of experience in government, especially as Secretary of State, one of the most visible positions in the world. She hit him hard for being an aggressive, failed businessman and attempted to show that he doesn’t give a hoot about ordinary citizens. This was a strong argument for Clinton and one she did well attacking Trump with. She put Trump on the defensive and painted him as a heartless, corrupt, ill-prepared, hot-headed businessman who would not be a good representative of the U.S. values either at home or on the world stage.

And what did Clinton do wrong? Some of her biggest problems going into the debate were based n voters’ perceptions of her trustworthiness. This was amplified in the debate as she continued to sound too much like a career politician. Clinton does not have the charisma of former President Bill Clinton, her husband, and also lacks the emotional realism that politicians can evoke. She showed little genuine emotion and seemed robotic, replaying rehearsed answers. She needed to have a human moment, much like the former President did in his famous 1992 debate with George H.W. Bush. Bill Clinton engaged in a personal conversation with an audience member while Bush was observed checking his watch.

Bottom line: Trump should learn how to stay on topic to defend himself as well as remain calm in the face of accusations – even though his ego fights that. Clinton needs to work on portraying her emotions and not sounding so much like a programmed robot.

This first debate was a chaotic one, with zingers from both sides. Both Trump and Clinton made some good points and attacked each other’s positions. Trump seemed to be winning the first half hour, but Clinton was generally declared the overall winner of this first Presidential debate.

However, too often both of them also attacked each other’s character. Ad hominem attacks have no place at this level of debate. Let’s hope that for the next two debates they – and the vice-presidential candidates also for their debate – can above that childish behavior and stick to the issues. The American public deserves to be informed before voting for a leader.

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