Government & Politics

Grading the First Debate

The two most unpopular candidates in history squared off. And it was bad.

Nate Jackson · Sep. 27, 2016

As we have said before, voters are tasked this year with electing a candidate who is less unfit than the other. That was abundantly clear in last night’s first, generally awful presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the two most unpopular candidates in American history.

Trump began well enough, with measured temperament, hitting a number of the themes that won him the nomination. He landed good punches on several things — Clinton has experience but it’s bad experience, her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal came only after his, and especially how she and Barack Obama created the vacuum that allowed for the rise of the Islamic State.

Unfortunately, Trump was also his usual pinball self, giving wandering, sometimes downright incoherent answers. That meant he failed to land a couple of key blows against Clinton. For example, even though he slammed her email as “not a mistake,” he didn’t get to the core issue of her illegal and obfuscating behavior, or the systemic corruption that allowed her to get away with it. And though it was a brilliant stroke to demand Clinton release her 33,000 deleted emails in exchange for his tax returns, he also babbled on and on about being “extremely underleveraged” and so forth, sounding like an out-of-touch rich guy. Why not attack the Clinton Foundation instead? Worse, when Clinton accused him of not paying federal income taxes, he said, “That makes me smart.” He practically confirmed Clinton’s charge — she couldn’t have asked for more.

In general, Trump took way too much of the bait Clinton (and moderator Lester Holt) threw his way. In too many answers, instead of digging into the issues that resonate with Americans — the disastrous Obama-Clinton record of a lackluster economy and foreign policy disasters around the world — he ended up trying to explain the “small loan” ($14 million!) from his father, or why his insults of Rosie O'Donnell were exactly what she deserved. That only served to make him look like the rich snob and misogynist bully Clinton said he is.

All that said, the “vibe” he communicated was quintessential Trump, and it has served him well. The overall takeaway is that America is headed in the wrong direction and Clinton will only continue that path. Trump, on the other hand, can fix it.

As for Clinton, she clearly prepared well. She was so proud of her own preparation, in fact, that she openly boasted about it. Hillary rattled off a State of the Union-worthy list of federal programs and leftist grab-bag items she’d implement or grow. She harped on inequality and how Trump wasn’t for the middle class. She sounded like she knew what she was talking about. But for those of us who actually remember the details of her career, it was nothing but lies, sprinkled with divisive race-, class- and sex-bait. Trump “has a long record of engaging in racist behavior,” she charged. She might as well have called him deplorable.

Arguably, Clinton prepared too well, because her vibe was one of robotic rehearsal. You could almost see her thinking, “This is the part where I smile and wait.” She awkwardly delivered insults (“Trumped-up trickle-down economics”) and was oddly impersonal in recounting her personal story of her father’s small business record. Hillary is a lying phony, and that came through loud and clear.

Finally, Lester Holt was both obviously and discreetly on Clinton’s side throughout the night. (What else would we expect from Leftmedia moderators?) He ran interference for Clinton several times — twice with overt “fact checks” on Donald Trump, and once by admonishing the audience after many cheered for Trump’s attack on Clinton’s email. Holt did not similarly admonish the audience for cheering for Hillary. In one confrontation on “stop and frisk” policing, Holt was visibly angry with Trump as he challenged the candidate — and Holt misrepresented the facts, to boot.

Holt’s influence was also blatantly obvious in the topics he chose (and didn’t choose). He asked Trump about Obama’s birth certificate, Trump’s questionable position on the Iraq war (but not Hillary’s), and his tax returns. Holt did not ask either candidate about ObamaCare, immigration, the Clinton Foundation, Benghazi, Clinton’s email (except to invite her to respond to Trump) or her “basket of deplorables” slander of a quarter of the American population. Holt steered clear of anything that would be inconvenient for Clinton. More than that, one of his questions essentially boiled down to this: “Secretary Clinton is historically awesome. Why don’t you think so?”

Holt clearly got the Clinton memo appealing for such help, and he heard loud and clear the message behind the Left’s eviscerating of Matt Lauer after the NBC forum.

All told, the debate was a complete disservice to the American people. A blatantly biased moderator faced off against one of two unfit candidates, neither of whom successfully made the case that they should be trusted as the leader of the free world. And we’re asked to sort it out. Welcome to 2016.

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