Winners, losers: Judging how Clinton, Trump, Holt fared on the debate stage

2016 hillary clinton donald trumpThey’re saying 100 million people watched the first presidential debate Monday night. What did they see?


PUSH: Lester Holt as moderator was … eh …

NBC News anchor Lester Holt had an unforgiving job, and for roughly the first third of the night, he failed – and flailed.

Donald Trump was allowed to repeatedly interrupt Hillary Clinton early on, and the effect was the same as when the refs in a basketball game allow defenders on the perimeter to get away with hand-checks in the first few minutes.

If you don’t call those fouls early, they’re going to hand-check the entire 40 minutes.

Not that Trump’s interruptions played in his favor. It may have been that the Trump side would have benefited from Holt actually enforcing decorum.

Something to think about there, huh?

Holt rallied a bit in the second half of the debate, following up after Trump tried to avoid direct questions on his release of his tax returns, on his flip-flopping on the birther issue and on his continued insistence that he opposed the Iraq war before the war, when that is not the case.

Good questions, generally, for both. He asked Clinton about the emails, started the debate putting her on the defensive on NAFTA, had several questions for both on race.


LOSER: Trump can’t stop himself from being Trump

The first, say, 10 minutes, were going well for Trump. He was getting his points across, well, hitting Clinton hard on NAFTA and foreign trade deals in general.

Then he let himself get off track after Clinton pivoted to referencing the $14 million loan that his father gave him to jumpstart his business, sidestepping a question from Holt on his ideas on bringing manufacturing jobs back to the U.S., pretty much a softball for Trump, to defend the “very small loan” from his father.

After that, he went off the rails, which in a way wasn’t unexpected, because going off the rails worked for him in the Republican debates, but what he did back in the spring was more controlled aggression.

What we saw Monday night was Trump consistently explaining, and the old saying in politics is, if you’re explaining, you’re losing.


PUSH: Clinton was the clear winner, but there’s two more to go

No doubt Clinton was the winner Monday night. No doubt either that there are still two more of these things to go.

You do have to wonder if Trump takes the ass-whuppin’ he just got as a wake-up call to actually prepare himself for rounds two and three, because he clearly winged it tonight, with no prep whatsoever, as is his wont.

Trump scored points on trade issues, and he was making good political points regarding ISIS, at least points with the base.

Clinton got a little wonky on the foreign policy section, also playing well to her base.

Where she will score better with the unaffiliated voters is in demeanor. Trump was a bully both to Clinton and to Holt. Clinton did well not to respond in kind, and to let Trump wither on the vine on his truthiness on his claims to have opposed the Iraq war before the invasion in 2003.



Trump, who doesn’t want to release details of his strategy for defeating ISIS because why would he want them to know what he would do, told reporters in the spin room after the debate that he might just have to bring up Bill Clinton’s infidelity at the next debate.

Which, yeah, wow, from a guy who has been married three times, and cheated on his first two wives.

He won’t actually bring that up, of course.

OK, he might. What he would be wise to do would be to hit harder on NAFTA and the impact of foreign trade deals on manufacturing jobs in the U.S., and to just say the word ISIS over and over and over.

The jobs issue will give Trump a reachout to swing voters in the Midwest, at least. The ISIS line might peel off a relative few unaffiliateds who are also motivated by his repeated Nixonian-channeled calls for “law and order.”

Right now the polls are so close that peeling off a few voters can be key.

For Clinton, there was a buffet table of openings to munch on for the next debate. Trump interrupted Clinton on the attack on his failure to pay federal income taxes to admit that not paying income taxes means he’s “smart,” which, yeah, again, wow, did he actually say that out loud?

Clinton also scored on attacking his record as a businessman, referencing his multiple bankruptcy filings, which he defended with a weak, well, I was taking advantage of the laws of the country.

She largely avoided Trump’s foot-in-his-mouth response to his claims to have opposed the Iraq war, but there’s ammunition there.

Both sides go back to make their halftime adjustments, but will it matter? You have to ask because if 100 million people really did watch this debate, which I personally doubt, but anyway, do we get at all close to that number again?

You can probably tell from the way I phrase it that I highly doubt it.

Review by Chris Graham  

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