On Monday night I, like many of you, tuned into the debate between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. What promised to be the most exciting political event of the season instead only delivered more of the same from both candidates.
When examining a debate, it’s important to remember that debates change the positions of very few voters. Most Americans decided how they were going to vote months ago, if not earlier. To those who bothered familiarizing themselves with the candidates, neither said much that was overly surprising (although many of my friends were unaware of Trump’s Reaganesque stances on abortion, taxation and policing).
Let us then examine the potential fallout of the debate, and why either candidate can make a sound claim that they won.
First of all, it must be said that moderator Lester Holt, of NBC Nightly News, might as well have worn an “I’m With Her” t-shirt. He spent the entire night peppering Trump for specifics while appearing satisfied with everything Clinton said, and rarely pressed the Democratic candidate on anything.
Instead, Holt spent a good few minutes trying to get a straight answer from Trump as to why he had not released his tax returns publicly (he’s being audited and has promised to make them public after the audit is complete).
When Trump countered by pointing out that Clinton had made a long habit of concealing information from the American public on private email servers, Holt gave Clinton the floor to deliver a five-second tongue-in-cheek apology and then moved on. Holt also ignored the topic of immigration entirely, which has been the strongest part of Trump’s platform since inception.
By any normal standard, Clinton won the first debate. A few of her attempts at humour fell flat, but Clinton herself remained standing, to the surprise of many who were expecting a repeat of her Sept. 11 collapse. She wore a power red pantsuit and parroted party lines like the practiced establishment politician she is.
What we must remember, however, is that this is not a normal election. The fight between Clinton and Trump is a fight between the political establishment and the anti-establishment resistance. Clinton’s unflappable demeanour and perfect recitation of talking points may actually wind up working to her disadvantage; Hillary looks like a politician from a mile away. Further, if you’re Bill.
Trump on the other hand looks and acts nothing like a politician. During the debate he tripped over his own words several times, offered several single-word responses (most commonly “wrong”) and fell for a few of the verbal traps set by the Hillary/Holt alliance.
Fortunately for Trump, many Americans are sick and tired of politicians. They have seen what happens over eight long years when they elect a buttoned-up member of the establishment who promises hope and change, and many are ready to try a different route. A scary yet charming unknown like Trump doesn’t seem that risky compared to four or even eight more years of the same old story.
Like it or not, Trump is the more human candidate, especially now that he’s eased up on the tanning. Clinton, on the other hand, was fairly dripping with botox and might as well have had a wind-up key sticking out of her back. Her fake smiles were sickly-sweet, and her make-up resembled a porcelain doll.
Clinton can easily claim she won the debate because her performance may have won over a few of the undecided Democrats who had hitched their wagon to Bernie Sanders so firmly that voting Clinton was an impossibility until this week.
Trump, likewise, can claim a victory because his human qualities will have won over a few of the undecided, and the seething hatred for Clinton among the GOP may have even swung some of the Cruz-supporting anti-Trump hardliners back into shape.
The debate promised to move the needle instead only jiggled it a little. There were no revelations, no shocking campaign-defining moments, and no clear indications as to which candidate truly won or lost in terms of votes swayed.
My firm conclusion is that the only clear winner of the first presidential debate was the media (myself included), who now have months of new material to work with. The loser of the debate was Holt, whose shilling was so overt he is likely to be getting job offers from the CBC. The candidates themselves both failed to make a real impression, and remain tied.
At the end of Round One, the score stands: