7 Takeaways from the First Clinton-Trump Debate

This blog was originally published on Forbes as 7 Takeaways From The First Clinton-Trump Debate on Tuesday, September 27, 2016.

1. First Impressions Last

Clinton’s opening words were about her granddaughter. Trump’s first words were about the nation’s problems. Human interest stories are a staple of effective political presentations, one of Ronald Reagan’s standard techniques.

2. The Split-Screen

If you’d taken the suggestion of The Atlantic’s James Fallows I referenced in yesterday’s post and watched the debate with the sound turned off, you’d have seen the dramatic difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Their images were in a fixed split screen for the entire length of the debate. True to form, Trump displayed an array of scowls, frowns, raised eyebrows, rolling eyes and disdainful head-shaking. This despite, a long article in the New York Times NYT -0.34% the day before the debate that described the devastating effect of Al Gore’s disdainful facial expressions in his first debate with George W. Bush in 2000. The Times’ Nicholas Kristof described Hillary Clinton’s facial expression perfectly in his tweet: “Clinton has the patient look of any woman listening to a man lecture her about things he doesn’t know anything about.”

3. Forms Of Address

Trump addressed his opponent as “Secretary Clinton,” trying to appear, as so many of his supporters have urged him to do, presidential. Throughout, she addressed him as “Donald,” reflecting the tolerant demeanor that Nicholas Kristof captured above.

4. Sound Bites

Clinton uncorked two that are sure to be repeated many times between today and Election Day: “Trumped up, trickle down,” and “You live in your own reality.” I heard none from Trump.

5. The Weeds

Clinton, the former attorney and policy wonk was expected to be wonkish, instead her statements and answers were crisp and clear. Trump went down into the weeds on at least three occasions: on his tax returns, the birtherism issue, and whether he had supported the Iraq War. All three issues have been fraught with public controversy and by dwelling on them he appeared defensive.

6. Responding To Charges

Moderator Lester Holt confronted each candidate about controversial subjects for which there is ample public evidence: Clinton about her email controversy and she replied, “I made a mistake using a private e-mail.” Holt confronted Trump about his support for the Iraq War, his refusal to release his tax returns, his five-year pursuit of President Obama’s birth certificate and his opinion of his opponent. “Earlier this month, you said she doesn’t have, quote, ‘a presidential look.’ She’s standing here right now. What did you mean by that?” Trump denied or ducked the issue on all four subjects,

7. Presence

Smiling often, and composed throughout, Clinton appeared in control and presidential. When, Holt asked Trump, “Why is your judgment—why is your judgment any different than Mrs. Clinton’s judgment?” Trump replied:

“Well, I have much better judgment than she does. There’s no question about that. I also have a much better temperament than she has, you know? I have a much better—she spent—let me tell you—she spent hundreds of millions of dollars on an advertising—you know, they get Madison Avenue into a room, they put names—oh, temperament, let’s go after—I think my strongest asset, maybe by far, is my temperament. I have a winning temperament. I know how to win. She does not have a…The AFL-CIO the other day, behind the blue screen, I don’t know who you were talking to, Secretary Clinton, but you were totally out of control. I said, there’s a person with a temperament that’s got a problem.” 

My father used to say, “Self-praise is no compliment.” And a long temperamental rant promoting one’s own temperament sends the reverse message.

This blog was originally published on Forbes as 7 Takeaways From The First Clinton-Trump Debate on Tuesday, September 27, 2016.