Reflections on the first debate: Trump loses badly


I will not go into details on the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. There are many detailed analyses online with a transcript here, and Tessa Stuart provides transcripts of the main exchanges. But in my view, Clinton easily got the better of Trump. It was clear that she had resisted the suggestions that she try and show a warm, personal side in order to counter the perception that she is cold and not trustworthy. Instead she went with her strengths, which is policy wonkery presented in a calm and collected way and combined it with deft needling of Trump that got increasingly under his skin as the evening wore on. It was a masterful performance on her part.

Trump in turn may have wanted to give the impression that he is presidential but he simply could not prevent himself from being goaded into intemperate responses, filibustering, interrupting, sounding loud and angry, and scowling all the time. To sum up, she looked presidential and he looked, and this is the word that came to my mind while watching, childish. He constantly pouted and rolled his eyes and looked peeved. As I watched him I wondered whether he realized that the split screen showed his reactions almost all the time. Even when Clinton was speaking, you could not help but watch his reactions and be appalled.

Ryan Grim, Amanda Terkel, and Sam Stein summed it up pretty well.

Donald Trump, within striking distance of the presidency, stepped on stage here Monday and did what Hillary Clinton hoped he would.

He behaved like Donald Trump

The Clinton campaign’s greatest fear throughout the general election has been that some other Trump would emerge ― a more measured, reasonable and mature man, one who might look like he was ready for the Oval Office. That man doesn’t exist, so he didn’t show up.

Trump came out with a clear game plan targeted at Ohio and Pennsylvania voters frustrated with the loss of manufacturing, hitting Clinton on trade over and over.

But he fairly quickly reverted to the alpha male role that had worked so well in Republican debates, becoming something of a Rick Lazio in split screen, hectoring, interrupting, sniffling loudly and rolling his eyes.

Clinton hit Trump with charges of racism over Obama’s birth certificate, misogyny over his statements about women, and what must have hurt most, took aim at his much vaunted business skills. She was particularly sharp on the issue of his taxes, using his refusal to release them to suggest that he was not as wealthy as he claimed to be, was stingy with his charitable contributions, did not pay any taxes so was contributing zero to the troops, veterans, and other services, and that he may owe plenty of money to foreign entities. This must have stung.

What I found interesting is that Trump did not deny that he may have paid no taxes and instead indicated that it was a sign that he was smart, which enabled Clinton to hit him later by suggesting that it was because of people like him was why the government lacked money to rebuild its infrastructure. She also charged him with stiffing small businesses by not paying them for the services they provided him.

At the above link, they provided a graphic that showed that Trump interrupted Clinton 51 times while she interrupted him only 17 times. This is in line with a recent study that found that “Consistent with previous studies, these data indicate that females are the more interrupted gender. McMillan et al. (1977) found that men interrupted more frequently than did women, but within each gender group, speakers interrupted females the more than they interrupted males.” Any careful observer can find support for this finding in everyday interactions among men and women.

While she made strongly progressive statements on domestic policy, when it came to foreign policy and terrorism, Clinton reverted to her neoconservative, warmongering self, sounding particularly bellicose against Russia, accusing them of being behind the cyber attacks and Trump rightly pointed out that there had been no evidence that the Russian government was behind it and that it could well have been the Chinese or some other agency.

Throughout the evening, Trump made the US sound as if it was a hellhole of decay and violence. He was clearly appealing to fear. I am not sure whether such a gloomy picture will appeal to the few people who are yet undecided. The opposition party has to suggest that things are going in the wrong direction but must also create a sense of hope. Trump tried so hard to paint a bleak landscape that hope vanished completely into the dark.

Trump as usual made many false assertions, flatly asserting things that are known to be untrue. Trump does not seem to know how to deflect a losing issue. When Clinton was asked about her emails, she briefly said she made a mistake and apologized for it. When Trump was asked about the birther issue, he went into a long oration that resurrected old charges that had been debunked, assuring that it would resurface. When asked why he would not release his taxes, he first said that he could not because they were being audited. He has said this before and even though it is a thin excuse, it is all he has and he could stick with it. But instead of stopping at that, he then went on to say that he would release them if Clinton released the 33,000 emails that she supposedly destroyed. But such an offer means that the audit reason for not releasing them is irrelevant. When challenged by the moderator on his claim that he had opposed the Iraq war from even before it started when there was evidence to the opposite, he rambled on and on about how Sean Hannity (!) could vouch for this in his private conversations but no one wants to ask him.

There was no talk at all about Trump’s signature issues of building a wall and keeping Muslims and refugees out, the stuff his base loves to hear, and they may be disappointed at the omission. Maybe that will be in a future debate.

On a side note, I thought that the moderator Lester Holt did a good job. There was some criticism that he seemed to disappear for long periods but to me that was a good thing. The moderator’s presence should be minor. What he did was throw out a question and then let the candidates actually debate each other and this made it much less of the usual joint press conference.

Trump seemed to realize that he had done badly and made a curious statement at the end where he accused her of being very mean to him and that he had planned to respond in kind but did not.

TRUMP: You know, Hillary is hitting me with tremendous commercials. Some of it’s said in entertainment. Some of it’s said — somebody who’s been very vicious to me, Rosie O’Donnell, I said very tough things to her, and I think everybody would agree that she deserves it and nobody feels sorry for her.

But you want to know the truth? I was going to say something…

HOLT: Please very quickly.

TRUMP: … extremely rough to Hillary, to her family, and I said to myself, “I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. It’s inappropriate. It’s not nice.” But she spent hundreds of millions of dollars on negative ads on me, many of which are absolutely untrue. They’re untrue. And they’re misrepresentations.

And I will tell you this, Lester: It’s not nice. And I don’t deserve that.

It was kind of pathetic to hear his plea for sympathy.

The general media consensus seems to be that Trump did poorly and so the question becomes how someone like him, who desperately needs to show dominance in every setting, will react to being so soundly defeated by a woman. If history is any guide, he will go to friendly forums like Fox News and Sean Hannity, and trash her in her absence.

Comments

  1. says

    I agree with you. An interesting reflection. How will we ever tease out the effect of Trump’s poor performance here, with what many of us hope will be a landslide loss. What will pundits make of it? He has had so many disastrous moments (usually just called a gaff, and it ends your campaign) that they are difficult to assess. The Republican Party will probably conclude that they didn’t have a right-wing-enough candidate.

  2. Mobius says

    I definitely noticed Trump turning in a bully boy performance. He continually interrupted Clinton and got upset on the handful of times Clinton interrupted him. He also interrupted the moderator on numerous occasions. And he showed a need to have the last word on every exchange, interrupting the moderator once again to add another two cents to his previous statements.

    Clinton showed a calm and cool demeanor, while Trump came across as petulant, whiny, needy and hyperactive.

    Still, few minds were likely changed. His supporters probably saw his poor performance as showing strength.

  3. Sunday Afternoon says

    Agree with the positive comments about Lester Holt. This was basically a curated conversation which allowed interactions to develop with occasional resets. It worked for me.

  4. bronwyncaveney says

    Oh, and regarding the ‘mean ads’ that HRC ran? They mostly consist of his actual recorded voice with his actual recorded quotes. He’s upset for being exposed for what he is.

  5. Jake Harban says

    The Republicans nominate a spoiled toddler who can’t ever appear in public without throwing a tantrum and screeching bigotry at anyone in range.

    And he has a chance of winning because the Democrats nominate an obsequious toady of the billionaires who can’t offer any reason to support her other than “I’m not that guy.”

    While the Greens nominate a flawed but tolerable candidate with a few good reasons to support her but who doesn’t stand a chance because everyone has simply decided a priori that She Can’t Win.

    And the Libertarians exist too, in some capacity. I don’t generally pay any attention to them.

    This is going to be a fun next just-over-a-month.

  6. Siobhan says

    I think you underestimate what Trump supporters consider to be a “win,” Mano. They weren’t exactly listening to his policy before and they certainly aren’t now.

  7. Saad says

    Jake Harban, #4

    While the Greens nominate a flawed but tolerable candidate with a few good reasons to support her but who doesn’t stand a chance because everyone has simply decided a priori that She Can’t Win.

    Why do you think she can win?

  8. Chiroptera says

    Title: Reflections on the first debate: Trump loses badly

    Well, seeing how the goal of these debates is to gain more votes without losing the ones you already have, “winner” and “loser” is determined by how the not-permanently-committed will perceive it.

    Mano Singham quote: “While she made strongly progressive statements on domestic policy, when it came to foreign policy and terrorism, Clinton reverted to her neoconservative, warmongering self….”

    So I’m glad to read that Clinton actually stated policy positions rather than just run as the not-Trump. I think it’s a risky strategy to just point out how awful Trump is; she needs to give people reasons to vote for her.

    (I didn’t see the debate myself; I just read one article this morning which focused on the flaws in their performances.)

  9. Jake Harban says

    @Saad 7:

    Why do you think she can win?

    She’s on the ballot.

    If she receives a sufficient number of votes, she will win.

    A hefty chunk of the electorate prefers her policies over those of Trump and Clinton, and another hefty chunk is disaffected and disenfranchised and won’t bother to vote without some indication that this time might be different.

    So in order to get the requisite number of votes, Stein needs to convince one large group of people to vote for the candidate they like best rather than according to a counterproductive “strategy” and another large group of people to vote, period.

    Mind you, a substantial majority of Americans would be better off with Stein than with Clinton or Trump but she can probably eke out a win simply with the votes of the people who already support her policies or the third option she represents.

    Can sufficient numbers of people actually be mobilized to vote for her? Probably not. As has been made clear by large numbers of people on Freethoughtblogs, even being a progressive skeptic dedicated to reason and justice doesn’t make you immune to ignoring the plain facts and accepting (or supporting) atrocities as long as they’re committed by Your Team.

    But that it’s difficult is no reason not to try. It’s certainly no reason not to actively oppose the liberal causes we embrace.

  10. Reginald Selkirk says

    … he rambled on and on about how Sean Hannity (!) could vouch for this in his private conversations but no one wants to ask him.

    That was hilarious and pathetic.

  11. Reginald Selkirk says

    RE Jill Stein:
    No thanks, I cannot tolerate her anti-science positions. She is anti-GMO, very questionable on alternative medicine (which is all the more shocking because she is an MD), is worried that wifi is hurting our children’s brains and has recently called for a new investigation into 9/11.

    She’s on the ballot.

    She is on the ballot in 45 states, and eligible for write-in in another 3.

  12. says

    TRUMP: … extremely rough to Hillary, to her family, and I said to myself, “I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. It’s inappropriate. It’s not nice.

    Like he suddenly cares a whole lot about being nice.

  13. Reginald Selkirk says

    Further to #12: And it was going to include her family. What a douchebag. Every attack Clinton made on him was relevant, and she never said anything about his family. ZNot once did she mention his tiny little hands, or his incestuous lust.

  14. Jake Harban says

    @Reginald Selkirk, 11:

    No thanks, I cannot tolerate her anti-science positions. She is anti-GMO, very questionable on alternative medicine (which is all the more shocking because she is an MD), is worried that wifi is hurting our children’s brains and has recently called for a new investigation into 9/11.

    I don’t see any perfect candidates on the ballot, so it’s a choice between an anti-GMO alt-med waffler or a white supremacist. To me, that’s a no-brainer.

    She is on the ballot in 45 states, and eligible for write-in in another 3.

    I’m pretty sure Oklahoma and South Dakota are more or less guaranteed for Trump, so her lack of presence on those ballots is largely irrelevant.

  15. Menyambal says

    The folks on MSNBC said they had seen clear evidence that Russia was behind the hacking. They also said they had been up too late, so there’s that.

    I don’t think anybody swayed voters. Trump saying he is smart to not pay taxes is just fine with his followers – they hate government and want to keep their money, and they want a leader who will abolish taxes, and Trump knows how.

    I don’t think Clinton is as bad as some of her non-supporters make her out to be. She has been investigated so many times, never with reason, that her e-mail is now the big thing. As for her policies, well, they are better than Trumps, and clearer.

    Clinton is also a woman. For various reasons, a lot of us think that is no big deal. It is. The first woman president is going to be historic, and a damn good thing. We need to elect her, and then stay involved in the governing of our nation. We cannot allow the kind of opposition that Obama encountered, and Trump has riled up all kinds of opposition.

  16. deepak shetty says

    @5 Jake Harban

    And he has a chance of winning because the Democrats nominate an obsequious toady of the billionaires who can’t offer any reason to support her other than “I’m not that guy.”

    I hear statements like these and remember that militant atheists are no different than militant fundamentalists.
    Any Democrat running (Sanders included) would be in the same ballpark against Trump.

  17. Jake Harban says

    Any Democrat running (Sanders included) would be in the same ballpark against Trump.

    Actually, Sanders has a halfway decent record on economic issues, he’s not a warmonger, he doesn’t support torture, and he generally hasn’t preemptively pledged loyalty to the billionaires.

    If Sanders were the Democratic nominee, I’d still prefer Stein but I’d reluctantly vote for Sanders.

  18. Blood Knight in Sour Armor says

    @#9 Jake Harban:

    Are you familiar with EA and Activision and how they churn out the same mediocre garbage year after year because people will buy it? That’s the reality of voting in the US. Jill Stein may technically have a chance to become president she’s polling worse than Gary Johnson. Our way of electing presidents only works in a one or two party system; a third party cannot be competitive at the national level due to numerous factors (funding, media exposure, a general understanding that they can’t get elected in the first place)… and it’s not something that’s ever going to change, realistically.

    I think Dan Savage made the best case for what third parties should be doing all over: “Here’s how you fucking do that: you run people not just for fucking president every four fucking years.”

    The best Greens and other joke parties can hope for is the demise of one of the existing real parties thus creating a vacuum that can be filled. Might well happen; I myself would like to see the Dems replace the conservatives and a true progressive party (devoid of anti-science hippies) fill the liberal void.

  19. John Morales says

    Blood Knight, “mediocre garbage”? heh.

    (Loaded language works best when it’s not oxymoronic)

    More to the point, who won and who lost depend on one’s metrics for success in an objective sense, but most voters are hardly objective.

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