First Presidential Debate Recap


Wikipedia Common License

Trump and Clinton faced-off this Monday at Hofstra University

The first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump had moments of excitement, and moments of tedium, yet few of the 100 million Americans watching came away particularly surprised by the performance of either candidate. Both Clinton and Trump are in the process of scrambling to gather pledged voters from those currently undecided. To achieve this, a standout performance would seem necessary; however, neither of the two historically least-favorable nominees were able to deliver on this front.

Going into the debate, Trump’s main focus (according to campaign advisors and political analysts) was simply to appear as a normal, reasonable candidate, in order to satisfy the more moderate conservatives who have been disillusioned by his antics. Hillary- who seems in this election not to have to be overly agreeable, only more agreeable than Trump- was aiming to combat this approach by enticing him to make an outrageous comment he would later regret. Focus on image and personal appearance is never absent from a presidential debate, but this election year, it seems Americans’ perceptions of the two celebrity candidates are dominated by general likability and reputability, rather than the specifics of policy.

Such was mirrored in the debate, as the night seemed less about the American public, and how each candidate could serve it, and more about explaining away all of the controversy accumulated over the course of the nominees’ lives. With such high rates of unfavorability, Clinton and Trump needed to distance themselves from the disdain felt by the nation’s people, largely stemming from the untrustworthiness of the former, and the offensiveness of the latter. To do so, the two nominees resembled drowning victims attempting to use each other as life rafts. When the questions became too much to handle, each could simply point a finger at the faults of the other in order to deflect attention. This tiring back-and-forth seems to have left citizens disoriented and unmoved, rather than inspired.

Despite the difficulty of crowning a clear-cut winner, both Trump and Clinton controlled aspects of the debate in which they shined brighter than their adversary. On the topic of trade/ job creation, Trump’s stated plan was more decisive and practical than Clinton’s, which felt platitudinous. Generally speaking, although Clinton succeeded in appearing more presidential than Trump, her answers and mannerisms seemed, to many, overly rehearsed. This preparation paid off, however, when discussing foreign affairs, as Clinton demonstrated a keen understanding of international diplomacy- likely stemming from her time spent as Secretary of State- while Trump’s ignorance surrounding these matters was exposed. Neither candidate gave a compelling answer as to how to improve race relations in the country, with Clinton only discussing police reform, and Trump defending the unconstitutional “Stop and Frisk” bill.

In terms of controversy, slanderous remarks from both Trump and Clinton were plentiful. Trump was called out for his lack of income tax payment, at which he gave the now heavily-scrutinized remark, “That makes me smart.” He further responded to this accusation of anti-patriotism by calling attention to Clinton’s illegal use of a private email server, which prompted a semi-apologetic explanation only as detailed as “That was a mistake.” The debate’s moderator- NBC’s Lester Holt- later brought up many Americans’ anger at the fact that Trump maintained for many years after Barack Obama’s birth certificate was released that he was not, in fact, born in the United States. Trump did not have an eloquently planned response for this confrontation, only boasting that he was instrumental in getting Obama to release the certificate at all.

In all honesty, about an hour and fifteen minutes into the debate, the battle between me and sleep became more pressing than that between Trump and Clinton. The two candidates displayed themselves no more gloriously than those we already know, and don’t particularly love. Many Americans will surely be looking to the next two debates- scheduled for 10/9 and 10/19- to reveal more hopeful options for the country’s future.