On Monday night, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump faced off in the first Presidential debate, moderated by NBC’s Lester Holt, and it was pretty lousy, terrible, embarrassing and unhelpful. Ugly. Not ugly like mean or nasty. Ugly like “poorly done” and “omg is this real life?”
And everyone knows it.
We posted our winners and losers here, but suffice it to say that neither of the candidates won. Rudy Giuliani is already suggesting Trump quit the debates (ostensibly because the moderator was mean), and Hillary fans are playing the woman card like it’s their last chance. Not a sign of successful candidates.
Trump was all over the map at the debate, alternating between his very fake “I’m respectful and professional” affectation (which he is very bad at), and his more typical haughty, egotistical, impatient, red-faced clown figure persona. You know, his actual personality. He was an interrupting machine, and like most big interrupters, was indignant if the favor was returned. “Excuse me” was said a number of times.
Of all the many times he lost his patience and bickered, the most alarmingly un-self-aware was when he insisted, stridently, that he has the best, no let him finish, the best temperament to be President.
Hillary, for her part, had trouble just reacting to things in the way a normal person would react to them. Every time she laughs at something or plays at indifference, it’s like watching an android that can simulate, but not feel, human emotions.
The worst of those many moments was exactly following Trump’s “temperament” moment above, when she had what was almost definitely a momentary short circuit. Proving definitively that neither of them has the right stuff.
Trump has no command of the facts. He was totally unprepared and can’t back up any of his rhetoric with data, numbers, or even examples, whether it’s on Obamacare, economics, foreign policy, or the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow. When she was wrong (most of the debate), he couldn’t correct her. And his inconsistency and constant policy shifts shined through, such as his muddled remarks about people on watch lists and about stop and frisk.
He has a tin ear and lets his need to feel justified and admired override his need for smart answers. The best example of this is when he said “that’s called business” about profiting from the housing crisis.
Hillary has no solutions. Right at the beginning, in her opening statement, she claimed that pretty much every possible aspect of American life is in disarray and disorder, and that someone needs to fix it. Then she advocates proposals and positions that continue the exact same ideas that the current President has been operating on for the eight years of that very disarray and disorder. How is more Obama going to fix what she herself claims is desperately broken, if it hasn’t already?
Trump did a great job nailing Hillary on that point, and he should have stuck with it. Instead, Hillary brought up many of his scandals, prior positions, past statements, and media storms to great effect, throwing him off balance and making him look desperate and angry.
Hillary would have looked a lot worse at this debate had any of her big scandals had been brought up by Lester Holt but the media has spent too much time and sanctimony telling the American people “you’re bored with this email topic” whether we actually are bored or not. So that (aside from a brief mention by Trump), and Benghazi didn’t come up.
What did come up was the birther issue – FOREVER – that was a totally useless waste of airtime and didn’t make either one of them sound good. It didn’t make the media look good either. It was very much an aside in a debate that started out promising to talk about prosperity and security and the path to success on those fronts.
As both Trump and Hillary prefer it, there was pretty much no discussion of social issues or “culture war” or religious freedom. Again, the media has decided for us that we think those things don’t matter. Both Trump and Hillary would have blown it on those issues, and mostly agreed with one another, so they are probably equally thrilled to not have to discuss them.
It was know-nothing vs. do-nothing-good, leaning generally left of center. Which we knew.
And that’s really the problem with these debates. From the voter’s perspective, we didn’t get to learn anything, there was no real policy discussed (per usual), and a lot of it was boring minutiae. It was just the two of them clashing about who is more of a bad person.
In the abstract, people already know both candidates suck. But on Monday night millions saw it live. There’s simply no way anyone came away from that train wreck thinking “wow, I really like Trump, he’s personable and sharp” or “man, that Hillary really won me over with her affable nature and clear moral stands.”
It seems what they did was argue about things the media most like to talk about on news, talk, and cable opinion shows, and not what most Americans would talk about at the dinner table or water cooler. In that sense, the only real winners, as we noted, are those who make a living off of sound bites.
In other words, it matched this entire election pretty much perfectly. And it will only get worse from here. They aren’t suddenly going to become better, more likable candidates.
Come on, sweet meteor of death. We need you more than ever.