Trump didn’t fancy having a moderator for the presidential debates. Like him, I would usually be in favour of removing the middle-man. American debates can be over-moderated to such an extent that candidates are prevented from addressing one another. However, as the debate started, it immediately occurred to me that Lester Holt could be as good or bad as he liked, as involved or distant as he wished, even as neutral or biased as he dared – because, moderator or no moderator, neither candidate would have done anything differently.
To be fair, the first debate started off promisingly. Both candidates opened with detail on the economy. Clinton seemed to have borrowed some of Sanders’ optimism, while Trump, after having gotten Mexico and China off his chest, got into tariffs in his newly-adopted soft-smokers’ tone of voice. Unfortunately, his old voice soon returned in “braggadocious” fashion. He jumped at every piece of bait and the conversation became stilted, moving along like a Twitter feed, each of them getting only a few sentences out before the moderator moved them along. The economic snapshot, then, was this: Hillary promised to deliver economic justice and Trump responded by asking her what she had been doing for the last thirty years.
Moderator or no moderator, neither candidate would have done anything differently.
Throughout the debate, Trump would continue to hold up Hillary Clinton as the personification of the political establishment which had failed working-class Americans. The phrasing of his thirty-year question was cheap, no doubt, and should have been easily deflected. Hilary’s response was to fall on her husband, who she claimed “did a pretty good job in the 1990s”, thus buying into Trump’s fallacy that nothing had changed since Ronald Reagan, even though, curiously enough, Hilary had already established that we were now in a different economic landscape post-2008.
Trump is a rambler, and indeed at the end of the debate’s economic segment, having accused his opponent of getting nothing done, he then shouted: “You’ve been fighting ISIS your entire adult life!” If true, this would make Clinton the most impressive American veteran. As we can all see, the statement either flatters Clinton (how healthy and young does she look?) or else is ahistorical. The absurdity of this statement shouldn’t need to be pointed out, and I certainly don’t intent to insult readers by repeating it, but emphasis seems necessary when one considers Clinton’s response: “Please, the fact-checkers, get to work.” Could she not excoriate the hyperbole herself? Unfortunately, debating isn’t her forte, and her stage wasn’t even a proper stage. It is impossible to imagine such a comment passing without prophylactic jeers if spoken in the House of Commons.
After the debate, the online betting agencies improved Clinton’s odds and the CNN poll showed Clinton at 62 per cent and Trump at 27 per cent. I would be wary of inferring too much from this, not only because polls are completely and always unfailing, but because this was a very unimpressionable debate. I wonder if anyone will be able to recall one insightful or meaningful exchange by the time one of these undesirables is elected President? It will be easy to remember just one thing from this debate – that image of the white horseshoe of teeth, gleaming, immovable like Botox. Someone needs to tell her that the look is as fake as Trump is stupid.
Next, her emails – vs. his tax returns (for some reason the debate’s key divider, immigration, wasn’t brought up at all). Trump first denied any financial wrongdoing. He later proceeded to defend any financial wrongdoing with: “That makes me smart.” He was unapologetic about being a good businessman. Apparently a good businessman is a bad businessman, and apparently a bad businessman makes for a good politician? But on the other end of the scale Hillary has her e-mails… and as Trump said: “When you try to act holier than thou, it really doesn’t work.”
The hypocrisy of Mrs Clinton is easy to miss when you are drowning in Trump’s contradictions, but when she brought up Trump’s ‘birther lie’ as a point of racial discrimination, one shouldn’t forget her 2008 campaign against the President incumbent also used the race card. Trump was very keen to display his non-racist credentials. He talked about this club that he had opened in Florida, for which he received “great credit” as there was “no-discrimination against African-Americans, against Muslims, against anybody.” When they talked security, and Trump stuck to his fear-tropes with the claim that ISIS is growing, Hillary failed to even flag up this blatant factual inaccuracy. ISIS is not growing. ISIS is shrinking.
After the debate, the online betting agencies improved Clinton’s odds and the CNN poll showed Clinton at 62 per cent and Trump at 27 per cent.
Notice two things. First: Hilary is not quick on the draw. Second: most of the quotes I’ve used so far have been Trump’s lines, and this isn’t only because he is quotable, but because Hillary isn’t quotable. Obama, an excellent public speaker, would not have let factual wrongs slide, and would have said something lucid and memorable while he debunked them. Despite the fact that many viewed this Hillary performance as stellar, it should be seen only as satisfactory, and only because of the level of her opponent.
This debate won’t be remembered. But then again, which modern American debate is memorable? The only memorable debate held in the USA in my lifetime was the ‘Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium’, an honest debate between two media-giants which, although leaving a clear victor in my mind, was also a clarifying exercise unfrozen by binary support for either competitor. In that debate, enough time was allowed for the issues to thaw. In this debate, there was no such chance – it was entirely personalised. Give the next one some air conditioning and maybe it would relieve the stifling intellectual asymmetry of these debates, only it wouldn’t, because these two could float in nuptial circles and on jejune clouds until the end of days.