Winner: Hillary Clinton
Judge: Ray D’Cruz
Hillary Clinton won the Second Presidential Debate. She won the debate because she got the balance right between (positive) argument and (negative) rebuttal. Donald Trump failed to get the balance right. While his attack on Secretary Clinton was effective, he simply didn’t explain his vision for America.
The debate started poorly for Mr Trump. The inevitable questions came, though some, like the first – asking how appropriate the current dialogue is for young people – were couched in subtle and engaging ways. Mr Trump offered superficial responses, and pivoted quickly to rehearsed and marginally relevant negative. Secretary Clinton remained relevant and balanced positive and negative responses; her arguments were therefore stronger.
At times during the debate, Mr Trump’s negative arguments were quite effective. His overall attack theme against Secretary Clinton (all words, no action) was effective and consistent. He was damaging on Obamacare, tax and Syria, effectively arguing that the status quo was failing and that Secretary Clinton was in part responsible. At times the Democratic nominee struggled with the force of his negative material: “everything’s not true” and and go to Hillary.com are not credible responses.
But on the very same issues he offered few substantive arguments. The one exception to his non-existent substantive matter was the astonishing rebuke of his running mate on military strikes in Syria: “He and I haven’t spoken and we don’t agree”. In debate terms, a team inconsistency on a pivotal issue is considered very poor.
The manner of the two speakers contrasted too. Mr Trump was combative, regularly interrupted and paced. Secretary Clinton was restrained and kept calm. For the strategic approach each took, the manner they adopted was appropriate. But was Mr Trump’s personal attack on Bill Clinton within the bounds of appropriate debate conduct? Absolutely not.
It was a messy debate that rarely moved beyond assertions and counter-assertions. While Mr Trump was effective in a negative sense, bringing many pre-prepared attack lines into the debate, he failed the relevance test too many times, struggled to present a positive case and went too far in his personal attack, distracting from the real issues. It might be good politics, but it’s definitely poor debating.