Debate Night in America 2016 – Round One

by: Chris Thompson & Michael Shields

The Primaries are over and things are getting real. The first debate of the 2016 Presidential Election has arrived and Across the Margin is here to help you make sense of it all…


“Just listen to what you heard.”

– Hillary Clinton

With Donald Trump’s uppish facial expressions, incessant interruptions, excessive sniffling and water drinking front and center for all to see, Hillary Clinton observed stoically as The Donald took the chunks of bait she dangled in front of him as a viewing audience estimated at close to 100 million watched last night as Hofstra University hosted the first of three 2016 Presidential Election Debates. The stakes were high for both candidates. Hillary Clinton, the first female Presidential candidate to ever take the stage in the United States 238 years of existence, needed to prove her trustworthiness and ability to connect with the average voter, while Donald Trump, an unconventional candidate who has never held political office, needed to convince the American people that he had the temperament and the qualifications to hold the most powerful office in the land.

Sniffle…Sip of water…

The format for this first Presidential debate entailed six fifteen-minute sessions, each session considering a different topic – from jobs to taxes, to race relations, to national security and beyond – with time allowed within each session for the two Presidential candidates to actually debate between themselves. Both candidates – with the evening’s questioning moderated by veteran news anchor Lester Holt (aka the Fact Checker) – had to have been cognizant of their need to make a large impression with the voters right away. With the latest polls suggesting Donald Trump catching up to Hillary Clinton, if not tied with her, in many key states, the air of the evening was anything if not tense. And like someone who came for the candidate but stayed for the spectacle, last night’s Presidential debate did not disappoint. Donald Trump came out swinging with his signature fearmongering, exclaiming right off the bat that “our jobs are leaving the country” and it was only seconds later he mentioned the threat China poses – a consistent, to the point of being cliche-ridden, talking point for The Donald. Trump did appear to master the first twenty to thirty minutes of the debate, talking effectively in his boastful, loose manner about the absurdity of NAFTA and the flight of middle class jobs out of the United States. But it was Hillary, with her freedom-red pantsuit, clear mastery of the issues, and unwavering facial expressions as she watched Trump display his casual relationship with the truth, who owned and drove the remainder of the debate.


Throughout the evening, as Lester Holt sat reticent and endured mostly off screen, Donald Trump was on the defensive as Hillary Clinton drove the conversation. Trump reacted strongly, and at times chaotically, as Hillary hammered Trump on his business success (or lack thereof), using his hateful words against him. This served to shrewdly get under Trump’s skin, which made him seem less presidential, more erratic, weak, and defensive, and it removed any opportunities for Trump to hit back at Hillary and control the debate.


It took no time for Hillary to coin a new term regarding Donald Trump’s economic strategy. Citing Donald Trump’s “Trumped-up Trickle-Down Economics,” a system  where he believes tax cuts for the rich will act as vehicles to make jobs for the underprivileged, Clinton hammered Trump on the reality of wealth disparity in the United States and the means to bridge the gap. A conversation concerning clashing economic theories unsurprisingly and expeditiously broke down into a tit-for-tat exchange about Donald Trump’s tax returns. Trump went on the offensive and said he would release his tax returns if Hillary released the 33,000 emails that were deleted from her home server. Seizing the moment, and accepting a measure of responsibility, Clinton appeared presidential by apologizing for her mistakes and owning up to her misdeed, and then calling out Trump for refusing to apologize for those people he refused to pay for services he didn’t consider to be up to his standards. Trump in turn responded boastfully that he took advantage of the laws of the nation, even if it was at the expense of others. Last night’s shenanigans have made it clear that not only will we not get a glimpse of Trump’s tax returns, but that the myriad of contractors and workers that Trump stiffed won’t see one red cent of his money, a fact he is certainly proud of.


On the topic of healing race relations in the United States, and reforming the criminal justice system, Donald Trump’s answer was, repeatedly, that “Law and Order” was needed. Hillary countered Trump’s hollow rhetoric by stating that an increase of Law and Order is not the answer to the question about mending race relations in the United States, and insisted that the last thing the country needs is to establish a stronger law enforcement presence in a lot of these communities. Trump demanded time and again that what was needed was to increase the practice of “stop and frisk,” an outdated, apathetic, and ineffective procedure based on racial discrimination and proven unconstitutional in court – no matter what Mr. Trump may say. Throughout the discussion of race relations in America, Trump displayed an insensitivity to the real issues and an inability to relate to those who are suffering under this oppressive yoke. Trump’s insistence that we need a return to the days of Law and Order, that we need to be strong and vigilant, and that we need to have people in power that know what they are doing reeks of hyperbole, and doesn’t appear to be based in sound fact or policy but instead steeped in keywords and phrases meant to serve a purpose – his becoming President – but lacking in practical, real world applications. Hillary Clinton spoke of Donald Trump only focusing on the negatives of these communities and the “hell” that their inhabitants live in. In dire contrast to Trump’s disparaging vision of black communities throughout the country, Clinton spoke to the United States’ strong black communities and to its even greater potential. She then delved into the scourge of systemic racism in the U.S. criminal justice system and for-profit incarceration. She spoke of a country where everyone respected the law and in turn was respected by it. A place where law enforcement and the judicial system was trusted. Clinton plainly stated that implicit bias is pervasive in the United States and that race determines too much in our country, and that she is the candidate who understands these issues and will work to combat them. Hillary’s answers were specific and succinct, while Donald’s seemed to be playing on the fears of those in need.


It was only a matter of time before the evening’s debate led to the topic of President Obama and the “birther argument.” Donald Trump’s answer as to why he suddenly changed his mind and decided that President Barack Obama, the first African-American President of the United States, was indeed a United States citizen came off as an unjustly boastful and nonsensical rant. Forced to reference secret conversations with Fox News’s Sean Hannity and the rumor’s inception in Hillary Clinton’s failed 2008 Presidential Election bid committee, the Donald’s answer to a very important question – that goes to the heart of his trustworthiness and temperament – gave no real explanation as to why he suddenly changed his mind. It was the kind of answer that must have made Hillary wonder if she should jump in and stoke the fires some more, further agitating Trump, or just continue to smile and hold her tongue as he dug his own grave deeper and deeper. She chose the latter more often than not for the entire evening, and was all the better for it.

There was a concern heading into this first Presidential debate by many Clinton hopefuls, and those appropriately terrified of a Donald Trump presidency, that somehow Donald Trump would be able to put on an act and by some means appear presidential and thus increase his appeal to swing voters and those on the fence. Bill Maher put this idea in perspective, tweeting before the debate that the “GOP won [sic] expectations game when it nominated an orangutan. As long as he doesn’t fling his poop, ‘Surprisingly dignified Trump last night.’” But these types of naive apprehensions were quickly put to bed, and when the dust had settled, and the orangutan was done flinging his poop, even Rudy Giuliani ((Tweeting immediately after the debate, “I assure you that @realDonaldTrump will be better prepared at the next debate.)), Fox News, and the New York Post were forced to admit the night belonged to Clinton. Clinton’s 35-point win in the CNN post-debate poll is the 3rd largest margin ever ((After Romney-Obama’s first Presidential debate and the Clinton-Bush 1992 town hall.)). Hillary came prepared ((To the point of hosting in the audience an architect who has worked for Trump who was left unpaid.)), was composed, and appeared presidential at every turn, especially in contrast to the man who stood across from her, who once claimed that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” A man who called women “pigs, slobs, and dogs, and someone who has said pregnancy is an inconvenience to employers, who has said that women don’t deserve equal pay unless they do as good a job as men.” A man that resorted to whining about the tone of Hillary Clinton’s attack ads, woefully and embarrassing lamenting, “It’s not a nice thing she has done.”

From bragging about being audited annually, to doubling down on his denigration of Rosie O’Donnell (“Rosie O’Donnell, I said very tough things to her and I think everyone would agree that she deserves it and nobody feels sorry for her”), to boasting about not paying taxes (“That makes me smart”), Trump’s ineptitude was plainly on display last night. But even with his incompetence exposed by a sharp, capable, prepared, and experienced Hillary Clinton, it is hard to ignore that ardent Trump supporters, and those that just will not break party ranks even for the sake of the country, will allow Trump to get away with buffoonery once again. Yet Trump’s bravado may finally be his undoing in these all-too important Presidential debates. As Trump’s claim that his “strongest asset by far is my temperament,” was met with a cackle of laughter that echoed throughout the debate hall, it becomes increasingly clear that anyone who truly cared about the well being of the country would never vote for Donald Trump.

On to the next debate (Sunday, October 9th), and you can be sure that Immigration and Healthcare will finally be discussed, and that the nation will once again shake its collective head over the fact that Donald Trump is one of the two candidates for President of the United States.

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