I’m writing this at 03:45 BST, with my reactions to the first Trump v Clinton debate.
My immediate verdict?
Trump was wholly defensive the entire time. He persisted by telling various un-truths, even when talking about his own record. However, he clearly did his homework – actually diving into a (tiny bit) of detail on some issues. Hillary went in to high levels of detail on specific policies, an ability which comes naturally to her, and which Trump had no substantial response to for the most part. Hillary should have talked more about Donald’s proposals – rather than the man himself. Otherwise, she risks seeming like she personally attacks Trump (a double-standard, of course, because Trump patently attacks Clinton and denies ever doing so at the same time). The debate overall lacked one thing more than anything else: substance.
As is the case when 100 million people are watching, sound bites are the key. I think Hillary had better zingers overall. “Trumped-up trickle-down”, “I prepared to be President” and her semi-improvised line about how the question of her stamina can be seen by her various world travels and her political record, shows that she can make good of her own experiences. She even dared to mention the infamous 11-hour Benghazi committee, which she sat through.
Trump, on the other hand, was constantly defending himself. I noticed that at one point, his defence towards accusations of racism was basically “I build a casino that lets minorities in”, which is an abysmal rebuttal to say the least. He started off relatively cool, and frankly, this was him at his best. He basically devolved into his usual swipes, odd remarks and insults about halfway through.
In this sense, the stronger debater was Trump. He was constantly interrupting Clinton, and as Clinton was trying to look friendly and welcoming, she let him interrupt her most of the time. He also got the last line in the debate, which I know is something he tends to aim for. I am willing to bet that he spoke for longer as well. He also spoke the loudest – another way in which he manipulates debates. Hillary was clearly trying to look cool, calm and collected – in order to appear Presidential compared to Trump. The one thing that surprised me was that Trump didn’t insult Clinton personally that much – avoiding his nickname for her, “crooked Hillary”. At the same time, Clinton didn’t swipe directly at his bullying debate style like Jeb Bush did, so in this respect, I was surprised that it wasn’t more personal between the two of them.
Anyway, it’s now 4am and I need sleep. I will write more in the morning. (By the way, I think Clinton won, but not by a great amount. I honestly don’t think the polls will change all that much.)
A few hours later...
I have had time to absorb the debate, and have a look at what the American media (and the world) has made of it.
Trump claimed he won the debate, because he was always going to claim this. He cited a string of online polls, and quoted a CBS poll which simply did not exist (CBS put out a statement saying they did not conduct a post-debate poll). Online polls, well known for their propensity to get easily hijacked by a certain group of people, mean next to nothing in the scheme of things but give the illusion of victory. If there’s one thing Trump is good at, it’s creating illusions – of wealth, brains, power and even philanthropy.
As I thought at the time, Hillary won. Most (proper) polls suggest this, but more importantly, the echoes which the debate sent around the world show this to be evident. Trump claimed the mainstream media is Hillary’s only friend and this is why polls think she won.
Yet I wonder what Trump makes of this. In Mexico, the Peso jumped in value, showing that the Mexican people think Trump diminished his own chances. Other currencies jumped, as far as South Korea. Evidently, the outside world felt confident with Clinton, who was evidently well prepared, and felt that the ill-prepared and bombastic Trump was simply not a strong candidate.
Another thing worth noting about the debate aftermath, which I forgot to mention in my initial review, is that Trump virtually admitted to paying no income tax. When Clinton explained possible reasons why he isn’t paying his tax, Trump stated that paying no tax “makes [me] smart” and that the money would be “squandered anyway”. Whether Trump meant to make his evasion so obvious is a mystery – much like his tax returns. Either way, he doesn’t exactly look honest.
Hillary also got under Trump’s skin more than he got under hers. I say this because she raised a new scandal – referring to his treatment of one of his “Miss Universe” models in the 1990s. Alicia Machado, who worked indirectly for Trump, won his pageant and then gained some weight afterwards, leading Trump to humiliate her with insults and shaming at the time. Such insults were repeated, verbatim, by Clinton, to emphasise her point. Raising this in the debate was a stroke of genius for several reasons: firstly, you could tell Trump genuinely did not see it coming, asking immediately how she found out about this. Secondly, Machado has come out proudly as a Clinton supporter and sets a strong example for women, particularly Latino women. Having given a recent string of interviews, people now remember Machado’s story, which leads them to paint Trump not only as a misogynist, but a genuinely nasty billionaire with little regard for those beneath him. In addition, it only helps Clinton with minorities and immigrants, as it plays into people’s emotions – and evoking emotion is not something Hillary is well known for.
So, overall, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump. Trump started strong, but his arguments soon descended into rants, empty statements and braggadocios rhetoric. Clinton was consistent, calm, but most importantly, threw a couple of crucial curveballs which got under The Donald’s skin. It remains to be seen how the two will fare in the next two debates, with Trump threatening to “hit her harder” next time. The world is clearly backing Hillary, but it only matters who America is backing. If he continues on his current trajectory, it won’t be Trump.