Tuesday, September 27, 2016

My take on the first presidential debate!

Trump and Clinton at the debate with Lester Holt moderating. Screencap.

I watched the debate last night and as always I have a lot to say about it. First some notes. I live tweeted the debate like I usually do, and you can see what I had to say as it happened (or make fun of my grammar and spelling mistakes that fill me with shame) by following the link to my twitter account here. Also, if you missed the debate you can watch it in the youtube link below:

So what did I think of the debate? Well it was pretty brutal. Clinton and Trump wasted no time and were extremely tough on each other while Trump had a secondary battle going on between him and the moderator Lester Holt. I don't think there was a clear winner in this debate, even though the media has crowned Clinton the winner. She did better then I expected her to do, but I think it was a mixed bag for both candidates. 

Before I say anything else though, I think Lester Holt did a pretty terrible job as a moderator. He had an impossible task and no matter what he was going to get attacked by people, but I think even considering that he did poorly. Not only was he biased in favor of Clinton, there were no questions about her foundation, e-mail scandal or health, he also did a very bad job of controlling the debate. When Trump was interrupting Clinton he did nothing to stop him and he also didn't admonish the crowd when they cheered (except for the first time when they cheered for Trump) even though they weren't supposed to. Again, he had a tough task given how insane people are right now, but he did not rise to the challenge. 

I also think the choice of topics was rather stupid as well. Though I am sure there are a lot of partisan people that enjoyed the seemingly endless discussion on birtherism and other lame scandals, I doubt undecided voters care. I also think that there were a lot of "gotcha" questions lobbed in Trumps direction that were not sent Hillary Clinton's way. Is it an issue that Trump made a non-committal "maybe" kind of answer when Howard Stern asked him if he supported going to war in Iraq? Maybe, but Hillary Clinton actually voted for that war and has much more responsibility for it and she wasn't called out at all. 

With that being said I'm going to take on each candidate individually starting with Clinton. I plan to go through what worked and what didn't work for each candidate. I think they both scored some points last night but they also both screwed things up rather badly as well, with neither side really getting an upper hand.

Hillary Clinton:
The best thing that happened to Hillary Clinton tonight is that she didn't have any health scares. Up to the debate there was a lot of concern that she wouldn't be able to complete the debate without being able to take a break or sit down for 90 minutes. She did so and did not have any signs of looking unhealthy or confused. Indeed, she looked better last night then she has in quite some time. I don't think that the speculation about her health will end anytime soon, but if she did have another episode it would have been a campaign killing blow. That didn't happen and she might have been able to reassure her supporters that she's healthy and capable of being president.

Clinton also plaid to her strengths, which is policy. She focused more on the nuts and bolts of her policies then Trump did. I still happen to disagree with those policies, but I think she did a fairly decent job. She looked like she knew what she was talking about which is always a good thing if you are running for president. I think she did a much better job of explaining her plans then Trump did, even though I think policy was not the main point of this debate.

Clinton also clearly got under Trump's skin. I think her accusations against him really bothered him, especially the last one about his treatment of women. Part of her argument is that Trump is too easily angered and she helped her case when Trump responded the way he did. Trump looked pissed, more so then I have seen him so far this election cycle, and Hillary Clinton deserves some credit for throwing him off of his game. 

But Clinton had some issues as well. By far the worst of these was her response to the question about police bias. Not only did she seem to claim that police are racist against black people, but she went on to say that EVERYONE is implicitly biased against black people. It struck me as obvious pandering and was really quite offensive. The idea has little merit in reality and to even bring it up shows that she is desperate to hang onto the black (and SJW) vote. I consider this a major unforced error and it is a pity that it won't get much play outside of conservative media.

She also made a mistake when she said that she supported NAFTA, which her husband passed during his presidency. NAFTA is hugely unpopular even among Democrats and is an association she would have been smart to avoid. Trade in general is a weak point for her and the discussion on NAFTA and TPP really had her flailing around. Trump deserves credit for hitting her hard here, but Clinton really should have tried to avoid the issue more then she did. 

I also think that Clinton wasn't forceful enough with Trump. It's a fine line to cross, especially when people already dislike Clinton for being pushy, but she really did let him walk all over him during the debate. Though she got her hits in as well, with a great line about "Trumped up trickle down" economics, Trump often talked over her and she didn't do the same thing as he did. You could argue that this made her look more presidential, but you never want to give your opponent an opportunity to dominate the speaking time like that. 

I also think that Clinton came off as mean. Both candidates did really, but Trump has the added benefit of being funny as well. Though there weren't many zingers last night either way, Clinton can less afford to be unlikable. She really needed to humanize herself and for the most part she didn't. Her warm smile, handshake and "How are you Donald?" at the beginning of the debate was probably the closest she came to looking like a normal person. 

Donald Trump:
Trump lost his cool and I think that it hurt him quite a bit. He was rather forceful in interrupting Hillary Clinton and I don't know if that plays well with women. They might see him as being, at the very least, disrespectful and some are going to say that he was sexist. I don't buy that for a minute, but I also understand how it could look to someone who has been talked down to by a man. I know it will play well for those that dislike her, but he needed to play for the voters he doesn't have. 

I also think that Trump was on the defensive most of the night. He ceded control of the topic to Lester Holt and Hillary Clinton. Though he dominated the talking time, he mostly spent that time defending and bragging about himself instead of hitting Hillary Clinton hard. Though he did bring up an attack about Clinton's e-mail server and the DNC leak, he let it go rather quickly and spent way too much time talking about inconsequential things like his Iraq War vote or his hotels. 

Stunningly he did not hit Hillary Clinton very hard on her support for the Iraq War. He did hit her on Libya and Iraq's general state, but when Lester Holt pushed him on his statements on the Howard Stern show he got way too defensive. It was the perfect opportunity to attack both Clinton and the press but he didn't do it. 

I would have said something like this: "You are asking me about a non-committal maybe on a shock jock's radio show when I denounced the war several times after and oh, by the way, Hillary Clinton actually voted for it. Why aren't you asking her about that, huh? Is it because the mainstream media is completely against me and that you are bought and paid for by the Hillary campaign? But no, keep hitting me on the issue instead of asking her tough questions. The American people know who's really responsible for the war and it sure as hell isn't me!" The fact that I was able to come up with that in about the same time he had, shows me that he wasn't prepared for the question and I think this was a major unforced error for Trump. 

Still, like I said before the bar was lower for Trump. All he needed to do is look presidential and powerful and I think he pulled that off. He probably could have hit Clinton more effectively then he did, but he still did a decent job with the attacks that he did pull off.

I also think that he had a few moments that softened his image that may end up playing well. He shook Hillary Clinton's hand and even refrained from hitting her for her husbands sex scandals. He even said that he thought about doing it but though it would be disrespectful for Chelsea Clinton, who was sitting in the audience. Though I do think that the Clinton sex scandals are fair game, there is something to be said about not going there as well. Doing so would have been rather sleezy and I do think he had a point about it being fairly harsh to talk about it in front of Clinton's family. 

I was also rather struck about how passionate Trump was about the plight of Chicago. As you know, the city is having a terrible time with crime and murders. Trump talked about this at length and to me he seemed like the problem legitimately pisses him off and that he cares about what happens there. I didn't get that from Clinton when she was talking about crime, but perhaps that is just bias on my part. The moment plays well since most of the victims in Chicago are black. Trump's outreach to black people might not be 100% effective, but in my mind at least, he made a case that they should support his anti-crime efforts, or, at the very least, he cares about the issue. At the very least he might peel away a few critical black votes if they find him sincere. 

Finally, I think that Trump showed that he isn't going to back down when it comes to the media. His fights with Lester Holt went on way too long and could have been handled better, but at least he showed to his base that the media wasn't going to push him around. Since media bias is a big reason that Trump is popular, it was smart of him to fight back against it. 

I see this debate as a draw. I don't think the polls will move all that much between the candidates. There wasn't anything that I saw last night that will keep people from hating Trump or Clinton. I do think a few independent voters might be moved due to Trump's law and order speech, Clinton's flub on racism and Trumps harsh tone, but the numbers will be minimal. 

I think the biggest effect on both sides will be that their supporters will be assured that their candidates will fight to the end. Clinton showed that her health, though still a concern, isn't going to be the top issue for awhile and Trump showed that he can still dominate a debate at least in terms of speaking time and hit his opponent hard. 

The next two debates have a better chance of ending with a clear victor. Trump will probably learn from his mistakes this time and focus more on attacking Hillary instead of defending himself. I think he will reign in his ego a bit and that it will help him in the next two debates. Hillary will probably keep doing what she is doing. She's good at debates, even if she did make a few errors last night. Her main problem is what is happening away from the debate stage. 

With all that being said, I am looking forward to the rest of the debates. I, of course, plan on covering all the Presidential ones. I will probably watch the VP matchup between Tim Kaine vs Mike Pence as well. I greatly enjoy writing these posts up and also shitposting on twitter while the debates happen, so unless something drastic happens, you better believe I am going to keep doing these until the election in November! 

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