2016 US Election, Ray D'Cruz

D’Cruz: Clinton wins First US Presidential Debate

Judge: Ray D’Cruz

Winner: Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton won this debate, easily. She won on substance, and her advantage was built steadily from the start. As each argument progressed, Mr Trump was unable or unwilling to respond to key arguments on too many occasions. Too many of Mrs Clinton’s arguments were left unharmed by the end of this debate.

On the key issue of economic management Mr Trump struggled to counter Mrs Clinton. She was able to tell a positive story about economic growth under the Obama Administration. Her key claim that his entire economic policy amounted to “Trumped up trickle down” and would doom America to $5t debt and 3.5m job losses went largely unchallenged by him. Mrs Clinton built her arguments around supporting the middle class and small business, speaking about college debt and clean energy jobs while Mr Trump barely responded. The parallel issues of Mr Trump’s refusal to share his tax returns, inherited wealth, opaque business dealings, potential conflicts and possible tax avoidance (the latter acknowledged endorsed in an off-handed comment!) only served to support the idea that his policies are aimed squarely for people like himself. Mr Trump made gains on trade policy (attacking strongly and proposing specific ideas). Mrs Clinton struggled, lacking a coherent record on free trade, and instead offering three-point “test” on whether she would or would not endorse a trade deal. Overall Mrs Clinton won the key issue of economic management decisively.

On race relations there was some broad agreement on the importance of community policing and gun control but “Stop and Frisk” remained contentious. Both speakers sought to paint the other poorly (Mr Trump deriding Mrs Clinton’s use of the term “super predator” while Mrs Clinton raised 1973 discrimination suits against her challenger).  The moderator then linked race relations to the Birther conspiracy. Both candidates attempted to paint the other as the originator of the claim. But Mr Trump’s tortiously explained defence (that he did the nation a favour) simply lacked logic and his refusal to explain why he continued to pedal these lies after the President had released his birth certificate hurt his credibility. While Mr Trump projected clarity on race relations, particularly when speaking about law and order, the attachment of the Birther conspiracy to race relations hurt him.

On international relations, there were a lot of indecisive and unfinished skirmishes, appropriately enough. Mr Trump used Mrs Clinton’s period as Secretary of State against her in relation to ISIS, arguing she let it flourish. Mrs Clinton only offered a current assessment and did not defend her inaction. The argument over Iran was an interesting one. Mr Trump had some well communicated concerns, but Mrs Clinton offered more detail and then used the recent taunting of US sailors by the Iranian navy (and Mr Trump’s suggestion to shoot next time) to illustrate why Mr Trump lacked the temperament to be Commander-in-Chief. Both approached US alliances differently, Mr Trump focussing on the financial cost and Mrs Clinton speaking about alliance cooperation. She needed to show more clearly the benefits received by the US for its involvement in organisations like NATO. Mr Trump got bogged on the issue of whether he supported the Iraq War.

Manner in this debate was not decisive. Mrs Clinton remained calm and clear through the debate (clearly lacking no stamina), while Mr Trump became more combative as the debate progressed, more regularly interrupting his opponent and talking over the moderator.

Tactically both approached this debate differently. Mr Trump essentially stuck to one speaking point per topic. As each argument got more detailed and nuanced he struggled. His appeals were occasionally superficial (“believe me”, “friends of mine”, “call up Sean Hannity” etc.). He did not attack many of Mrs Clinton’s arguments and did not properly defend himself. In contrast Mrs Clinton, had detail at her command and used it relevantly through the debate. That is why, on substance, Mrs Clinton won this debate easily.

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