Highs and lows of the First Presidential Debate

As expected: Trump aggressively goes on the offensive, Clinton falls back on cool demeanor


Image courtesy of AP

Only a few minutes into the first presidential debate, Donald Trump fell back into his trademark method of political banter: raging hyperbole and vague promises promptly contradicted by self-affirmation.

That isn’t entirely fair. Sure, the billionaire reality TV star candidate snickered, bellowed and interrupted his opponent throughout the event hosted by Hofstra University, but compared to past debates and the host of scandalous moments that paved his campaign trail, the Republican nominee showed a rare degree of subtlety and precision.

Trump was extremely aggressive for a typical presidential debate, but he drew from the indignant rage a large portion of the U.S. population has. This should give anyone pause who looks at the ratio of lies to facts and simply crowns Clinton the winner by default.

Make no mistake, Clinton may have performed better as a traditional politician, but this debate has little to do with traditional politics.

According to the watchdog journalism site PolitiFact.com, 53 percent of Trump’s statements leading up to the debate were lies. Despite this, Trump doesn’t need an ounce of practicality or connection to reality; his brand of politics is grounded in theatrics, not facts.

Despite Clinton’s qualifications, she has never been a particularly charismatic figure and can’t win against Trump with dry eloquence and use of facts alone. The real-estate mogul is going to beat the former senator every time in front of the camera.

It remains to be seen if and how Clinton will counter Trump’s tactics in the coming two debates. With that in mind, let’s take a look at each candidate’s high points and low points during the debate.


Hillary Clinton

High Point: Taking a page (or a couple chapters) from the book of Bernie Sanders.

Clinton did a fantastic job of presenting herself as the rightful alternative to Sanders’ vision of grassroots revolution, a movement that galvanized millennials, a demographic notorious for its lack of civic participation, into the strongest anti-establishment movement in recent memory (ironically, with the exception of Trump).

In her opening monologue, Clinton deftly juxtaposed an almost blue-collar image of her father and his drapery business next to Donald Trump’s multimillionaire progenitor.

She continued with a very Sanders-esque rant against Wall Street, corporate greed and the fallout that affected millions of Americans at the end of the 2000s.

“We had the worst financial crisis, the Great Recession, the worst since the 1930s,” she said.

“This was in large part because of tax policies that slashed taxes on the wealthy, failed to invest in the middle class, took their eyes off of Wall Street and created the perfect storm.”

Clinton would go on to address affordable college, the widening wealth-gap and a lawless corporate sector. Focusing on these issues may contribute to swaying undecided younger voters.


Low Point: Appearing more at home in a mall display than on the debate stage.

In the hours following the debate, there were many comments regarding Clinton’s supposed eloquence and poise.

However composed Clinton may have appeared during the opening segments of Monday’s debate, a side-by-side comparison of the two candidates can mask her plastic demeanor and halting, overly-rehearsed manner of speech. At times, she was little better than a mannequin.

True, it’s easy to sound eloquent when your opponent rarely rises above a fifth-grade vocabulary. Nonetheless, by comparison, Trump was energetic, organic and drove a “full-court press” from the onset of the debate, while Clinton seemed content to sit back and awkwardly sidestep hard questions while watching her opponent wear himself out.

Yes, Clinton had her moments when she turned Trump’s antics on himself and coaxed a laugh from the audience (not taking The Donald too seriously may be the path to victory). However, she wasn’t able to completely shake the demons clinging to the public’s perception of her.

This will be a tired, somewhat unfair criticism (considering Clinton has to be careful as a female candidate or risk coming across as “overly emotional” compared to her male counterparts), but the fact remains she appeared insincere and a little hamfisted in her attempts to dictate the exchange.


Donald Trump

High Point: The best defense is a good offense, especially when calling it a “defense” is suspect.

One has to admire Donald Trump and his ability to plow through blunders that would be career-suicide for any other candidate.

Yes, there were times he made a fool of himself. Impulsively describing taking advantage of the 2008 economic crisis as “business” and declaring his own acts of tax evasion as “smart” will probably not go down as the most brilliant moments in presidential debate history.

But you have to hand it to the man for his tenacity. Despite his inability to convey even vague outlines of how he will achieve his grandiose schemes if elected, Trump managed to force the spotlight on Clinton and her platform for much of the debate.

Trump was able to get under Clinton’s skin, baiting her into playing him at his own game of grandstanding and childish bickering. If the campaigns of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are any indication, it’s one of Trump’s most effective traps.

Amid all the bluster and condescending smirks, it was easy to forget the Republican nominee didn’t explain how taxing foreign trade would benefit the nation or how slashing taxes on the wealthy would foster wealth for all Americans, or even his claim that Clinton was the main driver of the birther movement back in the early days of the Obama administration.

Honestly, it seemed Clinton had a better idea of what Trump’s plans entailed than Trump himself, yet Trump managed to make Clinton look downright incompetent at times. Incredible.


Low Point: Shooting yourself in the foot will eventually hurt you.

When Hillary Clinton made the accusation that Trump labeled the looming disaster of climate change as a “Chinese hoax,” Trump predictably denied the statement. And, in one of the rarest moments of 2016, Trump’s deceit came back to haunt him.

It wasn’t the verbal lie that tripped him up. Trump’s propensity for lying is pathological in scope.

What hurt Trump was the aftermath of the debate: the cover-up. The post-news coverage quickly identified the Nov. 6, 2012 tweet and subsequent efforts to hurriedly delete it represent more than an attempt to manipulate the record and deceive the American public.

It hurts the image of Trump as a tough businessman who speaks his mind and tackles problems in a practical, non-politically correct manner.
That couldn’t be further from the truth. The actions of Trump’s team were pathetic. For a man who described his personality as a “winning temperament,” the cover-up was decidedly petty.