Winner: Hillary Clinton
Judge: Steve Llano
Hillary Clinton not only won tonight’s debate, she figured out a formula for rhetorical alchemy, converting Donald Trump’s public statements in and outside the debate into argumentative gold. She was able to simultaneously indict his statements and make it a part of the case for why the audience should vote for her for President.
To win a presidential debate, candidates must do four things as often as they can, in every long response if possible: Framework, Vision, Principle, and Action. Framework is instructing the audience how to listen to the debate; it’s like the instructions to the jury. Vision is what the candidate wants America to be like. Principle is the values they hold in mind while they think and judge, or face problems. Actions are specific policies they would support as President. Hillary Clinton managed to get all four developed well many times, while Donald Trump’s insistence on talking about emails, Clinton’s record as Secretary of State and Senator, and President Bill Clinton’s actions as well as President Obama’s. Trump was only able to discuss action, and sometimes vision.
The biggest moment in the debate was when Donald Trump apologized for his recorded sexist comments. He did what he needed to do to refocus the night on policy and who would be a good President. But Hillary Clinton’s response converted all of his rhetoric into structure for her framework. She argued that he decides what to talk about in his campaign, and voters should attend to when he talks about Bill Clinton being worse, or about other personal matters. She did a great job of using his statements to show voters how to judge the rhetoric of the night. Trump’s arguments about Bill Clinton and emails seemed to miss the point. This became evidence that he was poorly using his time, evidence that Hillary Clinton argues shows he would be a poor President due to this poor judgement.
On the question of Islamic Terrorism, Trump’s move to “extreme vetting” was a brilliant move on the policy level, but remained disconnected to anything other than an indictment of the status quo. Trump did not provide much other than some speculation as to why it would be necessary. Clinton used the question to develop the four areas of presidential debating quite well, establishing her vision, principles, and some actions that could be done that would not be exclusionary or essentialist of Muslims, which Trump did not address.
The one positive thing question seemed irrelevant, but it does give the candidates opportunities to find pathways for identification with audience members. I wonder though how many out there will find these statements more valuable for seeing the pathways to identify with reasoning or judgement over the energy policy or terrorism questions.
I don’t know if Trump’s demeanor hurt his persuasive ability tonight, but it did seem that in the first third of the debate he was much more serious, measured, and performing less of the type of figure that energizes his base. Perhaps Trump is trying to adapt to the situation, or taking advice from his staff. Either way, the sexist comments from the released tape didn’t occupy the entire debate, so we were able, as an audience, to hear about a number of issues and most importantly, see how and what the candidates will make judgements on as President. Clinton offered many more moments for this to happen, so I believe she won the debate. Trump needs to lay off being judge and prosecutor of Clinton’s actions, or former-President Clinton’s actions, if he hopes to access the audience and give them ways to identify with him.