Winner: Hillary Clinton
Judge: Jason Jarvis
I think it is lilkely that many Trump supporters will claim that this was a win for Donald. He certainly managed to prosecute a case against Clinton that was heavy on 90s scandal, hyperbole and bombast. However, Clinton wins the debate on my ballot for two reasons. First, she presented the strongest substantive arguments in the debate. She presented a calm, clear vision for the nation that is founded on inclusivity and tolerance. Second, Clinton won the non-verbal portion of the debate by showing a sharp contrast with Mr. Trump. While Clinton smiled and sat down when not speaking, Trump paced constantly and appeared to be grumpy and angry throughout the debate, frequently sparring with the moderators as well as with Clinton herself.
First, Clinton won the debate on the substantive issues. Trump was more prepared for this contest than he was for the previous debate. However, the debate began with a discussion of his comments about women that were revealed on a tape released by Billy Bush. Clearly irritated, Trump repeatedly attempted to change the subject to attack Bill Clinton for his infidelity. He also charged that Hillary’s claim to want an inclusive campaign and Presidency was “just words,” later explaining that “she has tremendous hate in her heart” in a discussion of her claims that many Trump supporters are “deplorables.”
Trump’s effort to change the subject from himself to Clinton would prove to be a consistent pattern across the debate. He focused on Bill Clinton in an effort to defend himself from charges of sexism. He claimed Clinton did not help “inner cities” when discussing how he would help African Americans. On taxes, he repeatedly pointed at Hillary Clinton and her big moneyed supporters such as Warren Buffett and George Soros. On Islamophobia he charged that the problem was that Clinton and Obama would not say “radical Islamic terrorism” rather than identifying a clear policy for working with the Muslim community.
As the debate progressed, Trump appeared to grow tired of the questioning, culminating with two bombshells during the latter half of the proceedings. On Syria and the humanitarian situation in Aleppo, Trump hinted at simmering tensions with his running mate Mike Pence when he indicated that he did not agree with Pence’s analysis of the situation in Aleppo. Later on taxes, Trump confirmed widespread speculation that he had not paid federal taxes for years due to an almost $1 billion loss. On taxation, Trump repeated a constant refrain that Hillary and other politicians allow such tax loopholes to exist, so he would be foolish not to use them. After refusing to release his tax returns and claiming in the previous debate that he paid substantial taxes, the admission is stunning and is likely to be replayed in Clinton campaign ads.
Hillary was particularly compelling in criticizing Donald for refusing to ever apologize, noting attacks on the Khan family, immigrants, a judge of Mexican descent, and a reporter with disabilities. The debate itself began to descend into the level of farce when Mr. Trump retorted that Mrs. Clinton should apologize, declaring that he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton’s email server so he could put Hillary in jail. On the one hand, Trump is correct to suggest that Clinton’s actions were wrong and arguably jeopardized national security. Clinton did not help the issue by talking about her “private account” rather than her private server (which is materially different and the source of the problem – a private Gmail account would likely not have been so controversial). On the other hand, NINE different committees investigated Benghazi/the server without finding malicious action by Secretary Clinton and she was exonerated by the FBI. The President above all other elected officials needs to respect the rule of law. No matter how frustrating it is, Clinton did not break the law.
Second, Mr. Trump completely lost the non-verbal communication aspects of the debate. To be fair, Mr. Trump was quite effective at executing one liners. He garnered laughs from the audience, despite the debate rules and was particularly funny in noting that Hillary blamed Abraham Lincoln for comments released by Wikileaks in which she appears to endorse telling the public one thing and telling people something else in private. However, Trump paced constantly through the debate, and when he was not pacing he was standing, gripping his chair and wearing a smirk as if he would rather be almost anywhere than at the debate.
During the questions on health care, Trump appeared to be trying to intimidate Clinton by making it difficult for her to stand in front of the audience member who had asked a question as she delivered her answer. Mr. Trump stood directly behind Clinton during her answer, blocking off a portion of the stage and making negative faces while Secretary Clinton spoke. The people sitting behind the candidates were visibly distracted (and displeased) by his behavior, in some cases watching him more than Hillary Clinton. The visual created for the television audience was unflattering for Trump and lent visual evidence to the narrative that Trump does not respect his opponent, and by extension women in general.
Trump also spent much of the debate at war with the moderators. He repeatedly chastised them for their handling of the questions and for being biased against him. Early in the debate, he quipped that it was “one against three.” During a question about Islamophobia and his desire to ban Muslims from entering America Trump became combative. He challenged the moderators for not asking follow up questions to Hillary and shortly thereafter for not giving him equal time to respond to her comments.