The Second Presidential Debate, 2016

After the first debate that many saw as a victory for the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, the second last night (October 9, 2016) was bound to be different. Donald Trump, the Republican candidate, had made clear almost immediately that he had been nice to Hillary by his own standards, and that he would be much more aggressive next time. The leak of a tape of lewd remarks about women before last night’s second debate brought further pressure on Trump, and led to a number of Republicans withdrawing support from Trump. This undoubtedly made him angry, and he wanted revenge.

It began when, at a press conference, the Trump campaign presented women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault in the past, and invited them to the debate as guests. Donald Trump thus used his ultimate weapon to derail Hillary Clinton. With one insincere word of apology, Trump dismissed his remarks as “locker room talk” before asserting that her husband’s sins were far more serious. He was quickly on to ISIS, Hillary’s own “crimes”, and her deletion of e-mails. Trump said that if he won the presidency, he would appoint a special prosecutor, and she would go to jail. He does not know, or does not care, that the Justice Department and attorney general are independent. And presidents do not order them to throw opponents in jail in the United States.

These were very uncomfortable moments for Hillary Clinton, but she endured them with her usual poise. How many women and undecided voters would have been influenced by Trump’s tactics is by no means certain. My view is not many. Did Trump prepare this time? Yes. Was he successful in unsettling Hillary Clinton? Of course. Was it a more even debate? Perhaps. But with what effect is the critical question.

On other topics – the economy, Syria, Iraq and ISIS and Muslim migrants – there was hardly anything new in either candidate’s arguments. On foreign policy, security, economy and health care, Trump remains a dismal failure in giving any details of his plans while Hillary Clinton succeeds, whether people agree with her or not. On Libya and Syria, her hawkish views as secretary of state in the first Obama term leave questions which are awkward and unanswered.

Despite a bad week leading up to last night’s debate, Donald Trump is still standing. If some of his committed supporters feel that he therefore won, let it be so. On the other hand, if events of the past week, his boorish, unrepentant behaviour have failed to attract any more votes, then Donald Trump is the loser. RealClearPolitics is worth a look.

We now have the third and final debate in ten days’ time in Los Vegas, Nevada.

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The First Presidential Debate, 2016

The first of three United States presidential debates (September 26, 2016) between the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, and her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, was noteworthy in several respects. Frank exchanges are to be expected on these occasions, but this debate had the unique stamp of Donald Trump. He was aggressive and impetuous – qualities which have long been Trump’s hallmark. Facts do not matter for him, and this was seen again last night. Hillary Clinton came well prepared. She denied some of her opponent’s claims, and pointed her audience to FactCheck.Org to verify other assertions.

Donald Trump’s best moments came and went in the first 40 minutes. His most effective attack concerned globalization and the loss of American jobs to Mexico, China and other low-wage economies. During his eight years as president in the 1990s, the expansion of America’s markets was high on Bill Clinton’s agenda. Trump began, then repeatedly accused her for wrecking the US economy, but had few facts or statistics to press home the point. President Barack Obama, in whose administration Hillary was secretary of state for four years, took significant steps to protect the US auto and banking sectors from collapse. No acknowledgement of that.

Trump counter-attacked every time his own record came under scrutiny. Why had he not released his tax returns so far? Trump replied that he would release them when Hillary Clinton published her thirty-three thousand deleted e-mails. And he tried to explain the retreat from his accusations about where President Obama was born to the acceptance that Obama was American by birth asserting that he had forced the president to produce his birth certificate. Trump took credit for it.

All politicians use spin. The first debate showed that Hillary Clinton was well prepared, had mastery over facts and her answers were nuanced. Trump was blunt and pandering to prejudices. Against available facts, he spoke of “gangs of illegal immigrants with guns” roaming America’s inner-cities. So he promised that as president he would make sure that “law and order” were maintained. Towards the end, the debate switched to security. Trump was exhausted by then, his answers becoming increasingly incoherent.

Most commentators, including conservative analysts, were of the view that Hillary Clinton won the first debate. Will it change voting intentions? For fervent Trump backers, “No” is the answer. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton’s support is likely to become more firm. As for uncommitted, including those reluctant to support Clinton, there are two more debates to help them make up their minds.

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