Contrary to my expectations, I think Trump lost his first debate.
He started out strong, stronger than HRC, but then declined a lot in the third round on foreign policy – on what should have been his strongest round.
And he really lost it at the end when they pulled out the woman card.
I say this as a Trump supporter who has called Trump as the winner at each of his appearances at the Republican nomination debates.
Unfortunately, this time he really fell short, and so far as I can tell the predictions markets seem to agree with this assessment.
It’s not an absolute disaster. Trump did get in many of his key points, and remained stringently reasonable for most of the debate. However, his lack of preparation really showed. He will have to get a lot more clinical in his attacks if he wants to bring down HRC, because she will not be doing it for him.
Here are my comments on each of the three rounds:
Trump was very good here, really playing up protectionism – something he has been a consistent proponent for since the 1980s – in a way that credibly jived with working class concerns in the Rustbelt. He also pointed out HRC’s disingenuous comments on the TPP. She could only respond with a lame plea to check out her website and her book (that is rated 1.4 stars on Amazon).
Trump laid out a credible and easily understandable plan to reshore industry to the US by imposing tariff barriers and lowering regulations. This includes lowering the corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%. Although the US is, overall, an excellent place to do business in – it consistently places within the top 10 countries in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings – its rate of corporate tax remains one of the highest in the world (most of Europe is at 20%-30%!). And his promise to get rid of the carried interest provision is highly progressive. Although HRC tried to paint all this as a giveaway to the 1%, I do not think she succeeded.
He also drew attention to the ballooning debt, the politicization of the Fed, and the “big fat ugly bubble” that is the current economy, which should help get him the last few Paulistas who have yet to hop aboard the Trump Train.
The attacks on his refusal to present his tax returns were deftly deflected, and redirected towards HRC’s continuing emails scandal. He also managed to present himself as an able businessman who will save money and revamp America’s “Third World” infrastructure. That said, his response to allegations he did not pay some of his workers – “I did not like the job he did” – was weak and must have come off as callous to many people.
I would say he won this round. Trump – 8/10, HRC – 6/10.
With a focus on race. Dis gonna be gud!
HRC did her standard pandering spiel, repeating the claim that young black men are more likely to be arrested, charged, and imprisoned for the same crime as whites. This “systemic racism” had to be countered by the end of mandatory minimal sentences, more second chance programs, and better police training. Because, apparently, politically correct diktats on “implicit bias” are sure to be more effective at fighting crime and protecting Blue Lives than a lifetime of instincts developed on the beat.
Now to be sure, Trump couldn’t exactly respond with dindu nuffin memes and FBI crime stats like some Alt Right shitlord – though HRC’s comments on how “everybody is jumping to conclusions about each other” was a perfect moment to mention that whole “basket of deplorables” affair. Still, he hammered his points in well, which was the most important thing. Trump emphasized the need for law and order; mentioned the endorsements that were flooding in from police unions; and pointed out that the number of homicides has increased in the past year (HRC claimed otherwise. Trump is correct and she is wrong. With any luck, progressives cajoled into researching this further will stumble upon the Ferguson Effect. And with any luck might even add two and #BLM). He even managed to slip in a mention of HRC’s “superpredator” comments, a “no, you” tactic that he would shortly use yet again.
As in the first segment, the moderator ended by mentioning another sore point for Trump – his promotion of the birther conspiracy theory. Trump had a reasonable reply, arguing that it was actually first raised by Sidney Blumenthal, a Clinton-friendly journalist, and also mentioned the Kenyan garb photo spread by HRC’s campaign during the nomination contest against Obama in 2008. As such, HRC’s accusations of “racism” against him were just another example of her hypocritical “holier than thou” attitude. Overall, this was handled well, though of course some people will never be satisfied.
However, Trump’s counter to HRC’s claims that his real estate firm discriminated against black tenants was not well made. He said there had been no admission of guilt (“And so? Corporations can get away with anything,” a critic might reply), and provided a counterexample of inclusion… in the form of an non-discriminating rich person’s club that he owns in Palm Beach, Florida. This was tone deaf with regards to both blacks and the 99%, but unfortunately rather typical for Trump, who has a tendency to talk too much about his projects and especially the things he builds for rich people. Eventually, it becomes tiring, even for people who aren’t much enarmored with “We are the 1%” rhetoric.
Overall, I think Trump won this round as well, though by a thinner margin than the first. Trump – 7/10, HRC – 6/10.
In the final round, HRC went on the warpath, the moderator’s shilling for her became pretty much explicit, and Trump tumbled badly on what should have been his strongest round.
I was actually smiling when HRC started off with her standard jeremiad about cybersecurity and the Russian menace. This was not a good idea, especially for someone with her record. Had her earpiece failed? Was the medical cocktail she’d been injected with beginning to wear off? Her arguments were almost self-refuting. The Russian angle is trivially easy to mock and dismiss, given the complete lack of evidence that it was actually Russia who had broken into the DNC. Furthermore, her comments essentially gave Trump free ammo to attack her on her own criminal misconduct with respect to matters of national security and her alleged complicity in stealing the Democratic nomination from Bernie Sanders.
And at first, Trump delivered. He mentioned that he had gained the endorsement of 200 admirals and generals. He pointed out that the hacks might have come from Russia, but it could equally well have been China, or even some “400 pound hacker” lying on a bed. The disturbing thing was that this had been possible in the first place, not to mention the revelations themselves – namely, that Bernie Sanders had been “taken advantage of by your people.” This was a well-advised nod to wavering Bernouts.
But it all went downhill from there.
Despite having already confronted a hostile Republican elite on the question of the Iraq War, Trump turned a lot more mellow on this issue in this debate – even though his audience, now half Democratic, should have been a great deal more receptive to it.
As Pumpkin Person points out, this allowed a thoroughly compromised HRC to turn the situation to her advantage:
I was stunned that Trump let Hillary and the moderator put him on the defensive for supporting the war when Hillary was a million times more culpable.
All Trump said in support of the war was shrugged and said “I guess so” when asked by Stern if he supported it but from then on he was against it.
By contrast Hillary actually VOTED for it in the senate, gave it bipartisan legitimacy, gave a speech wrongly claiming Saddam Hussein had links to Al Qaeda, and her husband propagandized for war on Letterman.
And yet Hillary made Trump look like the war monger and all Trump could do was babble incoherently when he could have ripped her to shreds on that point since it was the worst foreign policy decision in U.S. history.
He repeated the line that “we should have taken their oil.” That might have played well with Republican hardasses, but it would have won him no favor amongst the progressives unhappy with HRC’s neocon-in-all-but-name militancy. A missed opportunity.
HRC argued that Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric put him in a bad position to negotiate with the Muslim countries that are involved with the US in the fight against ISIS. Instead of riposting that her wars killed infinitely more Muslims than his comments ever did, or questioning the legitimacy of the sectarian involvement of Muslim countries in the Syrian civil war, or perhaps mentioning the Saudi donations to the Clinton Foundation and the influence they might have on HRC’s decisionmaking, he… went on some kind of rambling rant about Obama’s weakness on Iran and the need to go into Iraq with NATO (sic). “I have a much better temperament than Hillary,” Trump concluded. Kk.
Trump expressed his sentiment that America no longer had the means to be the “world’s policeman,” and repeatedly complained that Germany, Japan, Korea, and America’s other allies don’t pay the full cost of their own defense. We know that this is a reference to the inability of almost all NATO member states to meet the informal guideline of spending 2% of their GDP on the military, which allows them and Japan to enjoy the American security umbrella for free and use the savings to provide more social benefits to their citizens. Explained thus, Trump could have appealed to the anti-war left, many of whom hate HRC; but expressed in Trump’s trademark money-grubbing language, the point was lost for progressives while failing to satisfy the #NeverTrump types kvetching about Trump’s disregard for America’s international “obligations” anyway.
In contrast, HRC struck a consistently more professional and “learned” tone; vapid at its core, to be sure, but seemingly profound to the casual observer.
At this point, this could have still been a tie, just about, but much worse was about to come. It was time for the woman card.
The moderator asked Trump to clarify his comments that HRC doesn’t have the “presidential look.” Trump just about avoided getting stumped by insisting that he actually said HRC didn’t have the stamina, but that allowed her to make this killer riposte: “Well, as soon as he travels to 112 countries and negotiates a peace deal, a cease-fire, a release of dissidents, an opening of new opportunities and nations around the world, or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina.”
Instead of using this as an opening to go back to the emails issue, Trump bought into HRC’s frame by acknowledging that she had “experience,” but prepending that it was “bad experience.” However, this argument fell flat because Trump had failed to properly grill her over the Iraq War and her other international misadventures. In any case, unfortunately for Trump, the debate had already moved beyond foreign policy. It was now about affirming HRC as a strong womyn and Trump as a misogynistic pig.
Plunging in the shiv hard and deep, HRC said that Trump had called women pigs, slobs, and dogs; reminded viewers of his comments that pregnancy was an inconvenience for employers; and criticized him for his love of beauty contests and his comments about a certain “Miss Piggy” who is a Latina and will not be voting for Trump.
Now this need not have been fatal, had Trump kept his cool. He could have claimed that these comments had been taken out of context. He could have used that to segue into his childcare proposals. He could have pointed to his good record on hiring women. He could have joked that at least he had kept his beauty contests out of the Oval Office. Not so politically correct, but funny and classically Trumpian. And if HRC wanted to play rough, there was no shortage of ways Trump could have stumped her with Bill’s record. Bombing Yugoslavia to draw attention away from the Lewinsky affair? You can be assured I’ll keep it to just words. After all, we have the best words, don’t we folks?
Instead he decided it would be a better idea to go on a bitter rant about how Rosie O’Donnell had “deserved” his tough words – no matter that everyone up until this point had forgotten about her – and then proceeding to whine about HRC’s negative attack ads against him. Even the staunchest Trump supporters would admit that complaining about tone is just about the last thing he should be doing. But this particular juxtaposition was especially awful.
In short, HRC stepped up her game and went on the attack, while Trump was unable to adapt and ended up affirming the prevaricating warmongering asshole stereotype that liberals have affixed to him after having refuted them in the previous two rounds.
What should have been a crowning triumph for Trump after the hard slog of the first two rounds turned into a debacle. Trump – 3/10, HRC – 7/10.