Winner: Hillary Clinton
Judge: Nick Bibby
It is very hard to argue with someone who simply lies – and harder still to do so with someone who believes the lies. It’s an axiom of debate that both sides need the same standards of truth for any debate to even take place. Tonight’s debate demonstrates why that is true. Setting aside the out-and-out attacks on each other’s personality or character running through the debate, there were two debates going on this evening, which if they clashed at all, did so fleetingly.
In many ways that’s fair enough. They have different audiences, agendas and approaches to gaining votes and winning the election. If an adjudicator applies any knowledge of the world in which we live it is hard to see how Hilary Clinton didn’t win this debate but that’s a luxury not afforded when judging a debate.
Donald Trump was brutal; abrupt, targeted and ruthless. On some areas he sounded as though he was giving details and gave the impression at least that he was informed. Hilary Clinton actually was informed but in attempting to demonstrate that (up until the final third of the evening) she tended to appear more political than presidential.
That was the challenge here. Trump was appealing to his base – shoring it up against the damage caused by the preceding 48 hours. There were name checks – ‘clean coal’, ‘Scalia’, ‘manufacturing’ and there was a dogged, unremitting series of attacks on his opponent. Clinton was trying to reach out, demonstrating both her exhaustive policy knowledge and stateswoman-like demeanour.
Both did their jobs pretty well and the debate as a whole was nothing like the walkover that the previous one had been. Were the facts pretty much all on one side? Yes. However, perhaps ironically, Hilary did a much worse job rebutting Trump’s fantasies and fabrications than Trump did on attacking Clinton on almost every point she raised.
A closer debate, much closer. Trump started better and Clinton had the stronger finish. On balance, I’d give the debate to Clinton but really not by very much.
There is, however, one final issue worth mentioning here. All debates, all campaigns – all forms of communications in fact – exist within their context. For many, given the events of the last two days, this was expected to be the moment when Clinton buried Trump. There was one exchange which sums up why judging this debate virtually impossible:
HRC: “It’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.”
DJT: “Because you’d be in jail.”
If that strikes you as a low point of an already low campaign dialogue, then you would be likely to hand the debate to Clinton. If you think that was a masterstroke that spoke a much-needed truth to an all-too venal power, then you’d hand it to Trump. Neither of those decisions, unfortunately, would have much to do with the exchange however but, rather, simply distil the underlying rhetoric of the entire campaign. The difficulty is that the first group would already have been supporting Clinton and the latter, Trump.
Both candidates claimed an ability to bring people together and find common ground. In the light of the division that that comment made manifest – that the two sides simply do not have the same standards of truth – it is increasingly hard to see how that might be accomplished either in the debate of this campaign or the national dialogue that should follow it.