Now that a few days have passed since the first Clinton-Trump debate, I want to offer a few evaluations. Prior to the debate, pundits said that Trump needed to moderate his temperament and show more discipline, while Clinton needed to be more inspiring and worthy of trust. He didn’t; she did. In particular:
- Clinton scored some telling blows on four issues: women, Trump’s taxes, racism, and economic planning. She responded convincingly to his charge that she lacks the stamina to be president. She hammered Trump for his ongoing refusal to reveal his tax returns, raising questions about what he is hiding. She correctly excoriated him for his racist background, drawing a link between his early redlining in housing to prevent African Americans from renting apartments and his five-year campaign challenging President Obama’s US citizenship. And Clinton effectively distinguished her ideas for a middle-class economy from Trump’s plans to further enrich the wealthy.
- Trump presented only one idea for increasing jobs in the US: bring multinational companies home. Not a bad idea, but hardly the solution to unemployment around the country. Strangely, Trump regularly scores higher than Clinton on the economy, yet she fairly well shattered his supposed business acumen by pointing to the many working people he has “stiffed” over the years, not to mention his business failures.
- In foreign policy, Trump showed that he has no clue about the most pressing international issues. Clinton was excellent on three in particular: the Iran nuclear deal, NATO, and nuclear weapons. Trump was simply unprepared to debate the details, incorrectly stating (for example) that NATO only began planning to fight terrorism after he criticized it, that NATO was not involved in the Middle East conflicts, and that he had always opposed US involvement in Iraq and Libya. When it came to nuclear weapons, Trump was completely uninformed as to the huge US advantage and the continuing very expensive modernization program that Obama has approved.
- Trump’s characterization of the place of the US in the world was eye-opening. He said the US had been reduced to a Third World country, and had been “ripped off by every single country in the world.” As usual, he put the blame mainly on Mexico and China. (Clinton did not challenge these views, by the way.)
- Trump refused to acknowledge the role of Russia in email hacking, instead saying it could have been any country or even a “400-pound” person sitting in bed!
- One of Clinton’s best moments, I think, was her straightforward apology for using a private email server while secretary of state. (She should have apologized months ago and saved herself endless ridicule.)
- Finally, Trump defeated himself in this debate: His chaotic presentation, his inability to stay on message despite having been given far more time than Clinton, his defensiveness, his arrogance, and his typical refusal to backtrack on well documented lies demonstrated weaknesses of character and intelligence.
Donald Trump does not take losing lightly. But he is his own worst enemy. His attack on the moderator, Lester Holt, for being biased is absurd considering the many times Holt failed to stop Trump from talking beyond the allotted time and avoiding answering several questions. Trump’s sexism was on full display, underscored by Clinton’s mention of the Miss Universe pageant winner whom Trump attacked for being overweight and “a problem.” In short, Trump’s performance was poor and his post-debate performance even worse.
Clinton was not perfect. I wish she had said at least a few words about the international security threat posed by climate change, the necessity of major reductions in the US nuclear weapons arsenal and military spending generally, the urgency to address poverty in America and not just its middle class problems, a just peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the leadership role that the US ought to play in welcoming refugees from Syria and other countries at war.