First Debate: Reflections

Two days have passed since the first debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and more than a month has passed since my last entry here. Time for summer laziness to end, and fittingly, it’s the first week in Texas that it doesn’t quite feel like summer any more. It’s still probably hotter than summer in half of Europe or the northern U.S., but for Texas it’s quite mild.

So, the debate on Monday, moderated by NBC News’s Lester Holt, went off pretty much the way I would have predicted. Trump had a few good moments, but he wound up spending more time interrupting Clinton, arguing somewhat childishly, and clearly reacting to Clinton’s attempts to wheedle or get under his skin. Here’s my quick take on both of their performances:

Donald Trump: His best moment, in my opinion, was criticizing Clinton for her record on free trade agreements. The mood of the electorate has turned against free trade this year. Whether that’s because of Trump raising this issue or his focus on trade is following the public mood is debatable, but his criticizing Clinton on NAFTA and the TPP could resonate with a lot of voters. In fairness to her, she was not in elected office when NAFTA was negotiated and signed and has [tepidly] voiced opposition to the TPP now, but it’s a strong issue for him. However, he didn’t really effectively answer a lot of questions about his past statements or effectively respond to critiques from Clinton in a lot of ways. He gave some rambling answers to simple questions, the worst here in my mind being “why doesn’t anyone call Sean Hannity?” and his non sequitur reply to being asked if he’d respect the results of the election no matter who won. Overall, I’d give him a D+.
Note: I found the “call Sean Hannity!” defense for his supposed opposition to the Iraq War prior to it starting pretty damn disingenuous. It’s the equivalent of asking employers to trust your aunt as a character reference for a background check. It’s not that Hannity (or your aunt) is dishonest, but it’s that he’s not impartial and clearly has a horse in the race. Take that as you will.

Hillary Clinton: Her more extensive preparation showed in this debate. She was much more comfortable talking about policy, although she was more than happy  to sling mud at her opponent as well. She seemed calm and rehearsed. I thought her response to a question about her emails was, for once, the right length and was overall decent. It’s not going to win over her most vociferous critics (and she never will), but she succinctly apologized and moved on. She landed a few good blows on Trump, her best being the exchange over an incident of an Iranian naval ship taunting a U.S. Navy vessel–would he order the U.S. vessel to open fire over such an incident (it seemed that he agreed that he would, which is a bit troubling). Overall, I’d give her a B.

I have plans to start posting much more regularly here, so stay tuned if that’s your cup of tea. And the presidential contenders roundup will finally be finished, only about 6-12 months late (but who’s counting?).

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