GOP nominee Donald TrumpDonald TrumpUS probes Manafort’s banking: report America must improve defense against Russia's information warfare London mayor won't respond to Donald Trump Jr.'s tweet: 'I’ve been doing more important things' MORE was ill-prepared for Monday night’s debate. He missed opportunities to knock Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonObama and Trump haven’t talked since inauguration Perez, Ellison start multistate ‘turnaround tour’ for Dems Watergate reporter on Russia: 'I’ve been saying for a while there’s a coverup going on' MORE off her stride, especially concerning her private email server. And he came across as too defensive at times.
That’s just some of what Republicans on Capitol Hill are saying about Trump’s performance at the first of three presidential debates this year.
In fact, several congressional Republicans said they wished Trump had used a question he got on cybersecurity threats to aggressively attack Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of State.
“He only mentioned her email scandal once,” the GOP lawmaker lamented.
“There is no better question to be able to pivot on when she completely failed on her own cybersecurity when she was secretary of State,” added Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.).
Davis, who backed Trump after he won his party’s nomination, said the businessman should have done a better job prosecuting foreign policy failures that occurred while his opponent’s husband, Bill ClintonBill ClintonWe must act now and pass the American Health Care Act Trump's message: Russia First or America First? Senate Democrats should grill Judge Gorsuch on antitrust. Here's how. MORE, was president and while she was running the State Department.
The Illinois congressman said he would have knocked Bill Clinton for giving foreign aid to North Korea during the 1990s, money the congressman says helped the communist nation develop a nuclear arsenal.
“If Hillary Clinton is trying to own the successes of the Bill Clinton presidency, she’s gonna have to own the failures,” Davis said. “And a complete failure was negotiating with North Korea.”
Trump, he added, also missed a “golden opportunity” to remind voters that State Department officials working for Clinton had been concerned about whether Marines responding to the 2012 terror attacks in Benghazi, Libya, should wear their uniforms. Those officials should have been focused on sending in military aircraft, Davis said.
“Those are two points I think [Trump] could have hit and he didn’t,” Davis continued. “And I think he took things a little too personal and missed a lot of opportunities to make very good debate points that could have scored him much higher in the eyes of the American public.”
Conservative Rep. Matt SalmonMatt SalmonWestern Republicans seek new federal appeals court Arts groups gear up for fight over NEA What gun groups want from Trump MORE (R-Ariz.), who is also supporting Trump, said he disagreed with media analysis that Trump appeared agitated and flustered during the debate while Clinton seemed composed.
Neither had a great debate, he said. But it did bother Salmon that Trump tended to drag out particular answers, rather than quickly pivoting to more succinct talking points or attacks on Clinton.
“I wish that he’d say something, stick with it, and then move on to something else instead of saying the same thing over and over and over,” Salmon said in an interview Tuesday without giving specific examples. “It was just throughout the entire debate.”
A number of Republicans did offer praise for the New York businessman and reality TV star’s first one-on-one debate performance.
Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanTrump to meet Thursday with House Freedom Caucus members Healthcare fight pits Trump against Club for Growth High drama for ObamaCare vote MORE (R-Wis.), who has denounced Trump’s comments on Muslims, Mexicans and white supremacists, argued that Trump “met expectations” and gave a “spirited argument” against Democrats’ tired policies.
“I saw Hillary Clinton give a polished, well-rehearsed defense of the status quo, which 7 out of 10 Americans don’t like,” Ryan told reporters on Tuesday. “I saw Donald Trump give a spirited voice to those of us who don’t like the status quo.
“And I see emerging in front of us the potential for what a unified Republican government can get you, which can be a solution for our country’s big problems.”
Other Republicans on Capitol Hill argued that their constituents had crowned Trump the winner of Monday’s 90-minute debate, regardless of what Beltway pundits were saying.
“Most of my constituents have said that Trump won based solely on one recurring theme: ‘You have been there for 30 years and nothing has changed,’ ” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a member of the ultraconservative Freedom Caucus, told The Hill. “It expressed their frustration with nothing but talk occurring in Washington, D.C.”
Still, Meadows offered some advice for Trump in the next two debates: The nominee should challenge his Democratic rival on specific issues. For example: “Do you agree with President Obama’s decision to make a $400 million cash payment to Iran?”
“Specific questions that would require a specific answer work best in a debate,” Meadows said.
Updated at 8:01 p.m.