By: Will VanOrder
After a long few months since the respective nominees wrapped up their conventions, it was finally time for them to meet head to head. Before we begin, recognize that this is an opinionated editorial, meaning that while I am trying to be objective in my review, you might disagree with my opinion. That is okay! Disagreement is healthy in politics, as long as the conversation formed by it is conducive to active listening and genuine desire to learn. My one warning though is that if you are sensitive about your political opinions, maybe flip to our awesome sports section.
I will not ever state who I am in support of, but know that I do my best to look at each candidate with the same level of accountability. That being said, I believe this election has as much room for comedy as it does democracy (unfortunately), so here we go!
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and real estate mogul Donald Trump took the stage and promptly went to greet each other with a handshake, setting a tone of unexpected civility. This made the debate almost seem like it was between two candidates who were not as polarizing than those $300 sunglasses you bought and lost on a summer vacation (R.I.P to all the Ray-Bans at the bottoms of all major bodies of water.)
It was clear from the outset that Hillary had been hitting the books hard in preparation for the evening. Her time speaking was used with clarity and punches were calculated and deliberate. She jabbed Trump throughout the night and tried to play the dignified stateswoman in sharp contrast to the persona that Trump has built for himself throughout these elections. To be honest, it seemed to work pretty well. At times Trump was clearly getting itchy, and wound up interrupting himself constantly and rambling awkwardly.
To his credit, Trump showed more restraint than he did during the primary debates. His overall professionalism was much improved from the bouts he shared with other republicans when vying for the nomination.
For much of the night however, Clinton seemed to be running circles around Trump in a way similar to the Dread Pirate Roberts when facing off against the giant in A Princess Bride. Clinton looked calm, measured, and in her element on stage. She leaned comfortably on her talking points and was brutal in wielding Trump’s words against him; Trump was visibly flustered and seemed generally annoyed with the discussion.
By the end of the night, he was going off on the stream-of-consciousness tirades he usually reserves for his more dedicated followers. Throughout the whole night, he had made every drinking game for the debate seem like a guaranteed case of alcohol poisoning depending on what rules you were following.
One entertaining moment for everyone came when the topic of Trump’s taxes was brought to light. Clinton pointed to tax records Trump filed when he had to comply with state regulators to open a casino showing that Trump somehow paid nothing in federal taxes, to which Trump replied, “That makes me smart.” Fans of Hillary looked at that as a major blow to Trump’s credibility. Conversely, Trump mentioned that he would release his taxes in full as soon as Clinton released what was on her deleted emails, which seemed an equally successful left hook to her right.
There were some tense moments of truthiness (Thank you Stephen Colbert) when moderator Lester Holt called out the fact that Trump supported the war in Iraq. Trump immediately accused him of media bias despite the fact that when asked point blank whether he supported the invasion of Iraq on September 11th, 2002, Trump replied “Yeah, I guess so. You know, I wish the first time it was done correctly.” Again, Trump’s exact words. On March 21, 2003, a few days after the invasion began, Trump said the invasion “looks like a tremendous success from a military standpoint.” Hardly a full-throated dissent, but to be fair, that’s not necessarily an endorsement of the war itself.
Trump also protested when Hillary called out his climate change denial. Per the fact-checkers at NPR: “Actually, Trump has called climate change a “hoax” on several occasions. He said on Meet the Press that he was joking about China’s role. As Politifact stated: “On Dec. 30, 2015, Trump told the crowd at a rally in Hilton Head, S.C., ‘Obama’s talking about all of this with the global warming and … a lot of it’s a hoax. It’s a hoax. I mean, it’s a moneymaking industry, OK? It’s a hoax, a lot of it.’”
Fact checks on Hillary were less antagonizing. Despite the fact that the primary debates were littered with half-truths, misrepresentations, and a few flat-out whoppers, she did a much better job of staying truthful, which is something I have a hard time believing I am actually typing in reference to a Clinton.
What seemed to be Clinton’s worst transgression saying, “violent crime is one half of what it was in 1991; property crime is down 40 percent.” FBI stats show crime is up four percent from 2014–2015, but it’s really concentrated in a handful of major cities like Chicago and Baltimore. Shockingly enough, Hillary Clinton managed to be mostly truthful during the whole affair… which is another interesting sentence for anyone familiar with presidents of the 90’s.
As much as I personally feel that Trump lost this debate, I do not think he will lose much support among his core constituents. They are not turned off by his authoritarian dictates. In fact, that seems to be part of why they want him. They see someone who is going to brush aside any semblance of restraint or decorum and fight (presumably) for them.
While a healthy portion of faithful conservatives are such due to economic beliefs, it seems that many of Trump’s followers are in it for something else. His platform appears to have caught a wave of people who want back the good old days, or as George Lopez’s late night show called them, “Simpler Times.” That is understandable and it is a valid feeling. The place where previous generations grew up is divided, and everyone is yelling at one another over things that weren’t even conversations just a few decades ago. I do not mean to tell anyone they are wrong to support either candidate, because I have not experienced what someone else has, and experience is a large factor in deciding who to support.
If I were to diagnose the stance of middle-late age Trump supporters, I would say that they just want to go back to the way things were when they were kids. Things were simple. America was always the good guys, police were there to help, and their values were celebrated and promoted rather than endlessly questioned. It is natural for them to gravitate toward a man who promises easy answers to restore them to glory. That is not the only reason, but I think it might be a subconscious platform Trump has tapped into.
Tonight was a harsh and unwelcome wakeup call for many of those republicans. Trump made it clear that he was unprepared for that debate, at least in comparison to Clinton. This doesn’t mean Hillary has earned the right to the Oval Office, but it seems impossible to say he got the better of her in this debate.
I firmly believe that Hillary Clinton won this debate, but don’t get too comfortable. Donald Trump has the ability to contend with Clinton if he manages to focus more on what he wants to do (policy-wise, not “make everything great again”) and less on how huge it will be. Oh, and in case you were not watching or somehow have lived under a rock for the past few weeks, Gary Johnson did not get accepted to participate in the debates…
The one thing I think we can all take away from this, besides horrifying images of Clinton’s Cheshire-like grin or Trump’s sniffles, is that the next two months are going to include a lot talking, and it is the responsibility of each individual voter to educate themselves on what they consider important aspects of this election cycle.