Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump came out swinging right away tonight. There were no knockout punches but each landed some good ones against the other. I think each did well with their own constituencies and emerged tonight as a plausible next President. I believe Clinton won the debate on points – clearly better prepared to handle details, understand policy matters, and to articulate a clear vision.
Trump got in some good shots. I think he neutralized her on trade. Not only did he argue that trade deals she supported and even negotiated were bad deals, but she was reduced to saying these “were not my fault” – negating her previous positions as well as those of her husband. By calling Clinton repeatedly a “typical politician”, he reminded millions of Americans that despite the popularity of President Obama, still only 3 in 10 feel the country is heading in the right direction – a statement that tarnishes both major political parties and probably plays well with independents.
Trump reminded viewers that Clinton’s “tax the rich” plan prevents wealthy Americans from making investments in the US and he even went after the Federal Reserve for enabling a “big fat ugly bubble”. He gave definition to his candidacy – both parties are corrupt, Clinton is a person from the past, and she represents failure and a low point for America. And finally, he pounded her on not releasing 33,000 emails, something she would only to be a “mistake”. Her staff has taken the “Fifth” on this issue. Another mistake he reminded her of was referring to “super-predators” in the African American community.
Clinton got in some real tough punches. Trump not releasing his taxes is inexcusable because there is no IRS prohibition from releasing taxes during an audit. She got him on the defensive by suggesting that the only reasons he would not release his taxes was because perhaps he is not as rich as he says he is, or not as charitable, or has not paid to help US troops and vets – like any other American. Strangely, he only took offense to the charge that he is not as rich as he claims – something that reveals a real character flaw. She nailed Trump on the birther charge that he carried on too far. And she reminded the audience that “stop and frisk” is unconstitutional.
But her most successful moments were her charges that he has stiffed many of those who have worked for him, used bankruptcy laws to his own benefit, and that her health was good enough to travel hundreds of thousands of miles while Secretary of State. “I decided to stay home (the past week) to prepare for this debate and to prepare for the Presidency”. Ouch.
But in the final analysis little will change from this debate. Neither candidate exceeded expectations and neither went too far beyond their own constituencies. Clinton and Trump disagreed along predictable lines – he the “down with whoever is up” populism, she the born again Bernie Sanders.
I don’t think either candidate came off as likable or authentic. They probably never will. But it was a spirited debate and she won. I doubt the polls will move an inch.