Unlike most sporting events, where the scoreboard tells you who won and lost (or whether it’s a draw), winners and losers of political debates rest more in the eyes of the beholder.
Polls taken after Monday’s first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump seem to vary depending on the poll’s methodology. A collegiate debate coach used pure debating terms to grade the event in favor of Clinton. And renowned pollster Frank Luntz measured a focus group of undecided voters through the entire debate. Their consensus: Clinton won, although they are still unsatisfied with their choices in this election.
There’s a wide range of perspectives from America’s political pundits.
Donald Trump’s Missed Opportunities
Byron York – Washington Examiner
As he prepared for the crucial first presidential debate, Donald Trump knew moderator Lester Holt would bring up the birther issue. He knew Holt would raise Trump’s tax returns. And his old position on the Iraq war….
But Trump might not have predicted that Holt would leave some equally, if not more, important topics untouched. There was Obamacare, currently veering towards crisis. Immigration, including a proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The Clinton Foundation. Benghazi….
Holt deserves blame for not bringing them up. But on the other hand, that is where a candidate’s preparation comes in. If the moderator doesn’t raise a key issue, the candidate does. And Trump didn’t.
Clinton-Trump Round One, a Draw — and That’s Bad News for Hillary
Editorial Board – New York Post
Clinton was on the attack most of the night, with the marked help of moderator Lester Holt. But she didn’t score any body blows — nor remotely offer a rationale for her candidacy beyond he’s just too dangerous, a case she failed to make.
Trump wasted time on pointless defense on basically irrelevant issues — the birther stuff, his taxes and so on. But he didn’t come off as the maniac she needs him to be. New to this game, yes; too volatile, no.
Donald Trump remains the candidate of change; Hillary Clinton, the tribune of the status quo.
Clinton Was Good Enough
W. James Antle III – The National Interest
Since the Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton has turned in a series of solid but unspectacular debate performances, seldom inspiring but never losing. She added another Monday night with her much anticipated first encounter with Donald Trump.
For the first half hour, Trump landed more blows than Bernie Sanders ever did. But Clinton outlasted Trump for the next sixty minutes, during which the Republican nominee looked like a stand-up comedian who had run out of material before his time at the microphone was up.
Much of this owes to Trump’s obvious lack of preparation, but Clinton came armed with a good game plan which she executed nearly flawlessly. Use Trump’s ego against him, wound his pride and draw him into a series of fruitless exchanges.
Harold Meyerson – The American Prospect
Hillary Clinton had to do three things in last night’s debate, and she did roughly 2.8 of them very well. First, she had to actually make sounder, and more appealing policy points than Donald Trump did. On the whole, she succeeded—though she still doesn’t really have a good comeback to Trump’s criticism of the past several decades of trade policy (that’s why I only give her a 2.8 of three). Second, she had to get under his skin, so he’d feel compelled to defend himself, which is to say, defend the indefensible. Third, she had to know when to let him go, to rant, to be Donald Trump, and not step on it by interrupting or trying to refute the absurd. On points two and three, she was brilliant. Getting under his skin, she handed him the rope. Letting him rant, she let him hang himself.
Trump Pulled Off Presidential
James S. Robbins – USA Today
You can’t fact check leadership, and tonight Donald Trump showed himself a leader.
In the run-up to the Hofstra presidential debate, the Clinton campaign mounted a concerted effort to make fact-checking the centerpiece of the event….
Donald Trump did not self-destruct, he did not make foolish statements (whether you agree with him or not), he gave as well as he got. And despite Clinton’s numerous mocking remarks to the contrary, he came off as presidential. And that’s a fact.
Which Candidate Helped His or Her Cause the Most
Charles Lipson – Real Clear Politics
The Republican nominee needed to show he has the temperament and judgment to be entrusted with the vast power of the presidency. That means he had to be calm and deliberate while still pushing his positions….Instead, he behaved exactly as he did in the primaries, both in his answers and in his non-verbal reactions. That approach will reassure his base but do little to persuade undecided voters. Those are the ones who had questions in the first place.
Hillary Clinton needed to…show that she will be a steady, experienced, competent leader…(and) draw a clear contrast with Trump on that. If she could show a “likable” side while prosecuting the case, all the better….(and) convey a positive vision for America going forward…
As for projecting some degree of likability, she was very successful….Clinton skipped lightly over one of the gaping holes in her campaign: What does she really want to do, other than “stay the course”?
Trump Beats Expectations
Stephen F. Hayes – The Weekly Standard
He was better early, she was better late. Better to be better early.
Donald Trump dominated the first few minutes of Monday’s debate by casting Hillary Clinton as the embodiment of Washington politics and the failed policies that have led us to this point. He set a trap for her when he asked why if she’s been in politics for so long, she’s only coming up with good solutions now. Clinton walked right into it…
She improved as the night wore on, however, and he was flagging after the first half hour or so. He was often incoherent in policy, as usual, and when he offered some clarity it was worrisome, such as when he said again that the United States should “take the oil” of lands where we fought wars or when he said on “child care and so many other things—Hillary and I agree on that.”