Presidential Campaign

After the dust has settled: 5 takeaways from the first debate

Trump and Clinton at debate
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Monday’s debate at Hofstra University sure lived up to all the excitement and anticipation and played into the historic nature of this presidential race.

{mosads}Whether you are involved in the campaigns like I am, a partisan, or a more typical American, this election is an attention-grabber like none other we have witnessed.

After 90 minutes on the stage, and a day for the event to simmer, here’s the state of the stew:

1. Trump on the Stand

I have never witnessed Donald Trump in a courtroom, but I bet he is masterful. He is unafraid to take all hostile questions, he is quick on his feet and he has lived the type of life that has been full, interesting and he has been in charge. I have long admired his ability to appear on or call into dozens of radio and television shows during the course of a single day. His team rarely negotiates the types of questions that can be asked, like the Clinton team does.

In fact Mr. Trump even appeared at spin alley after the debate to take random questions, from reporters who were almost in shock to see him there. However, as a Trump supporter I can commiserate with his lawyers and other consultants, who must often both admire his ability to command questions with the desire to get him to restrain himself and only answer what has to be answered.

2. Clinton for Hall Monitor

If Hillary Clinton had not chosen politics she would have been a damn fine school principal. My strongest reaction to seeing her on stage was that I bet when she had to give a presentation to her class in school she started weeks ahead of time, memorized as much as she could, and probably got some eye rolling from her classmates. Secretary Clinton usually sounds like she did her homework and that she is serious.

But I wonder if her study habits could translate into the respect and support of her classmates. In a similar way, I do think there are Clinton haters (okay, okay, yes I admit it) who she repels but there is also a huge number of voters who simply find her phony, staged, duplicitous and quite frankly part of the problem. Does her polished presentation make her more likable?  Probably not.

3. The Times They are a Changing

Both candidates have high negatives, but one is going to win with those negatives. Most Trump supporters I talk to from around the country are not 100% for Trump, and at times they are even offended by what he says, but they believe he is the medicine Washington needs to get our country back on track. It is going to be much more difficult for Secretary Clinton to improve her negative numbers because they have been built up over a 25-year period of public service, marred by some of the biggest scandals ever experienced.

In fairness her negatives also come from being in the center of our political system and over time one wears the battle scars. However this is a year of change, where overwhelming percentages of voters don’t like the course the country is on, and they want to shake up the power structure. All of these factors help Trump and they help explain why Trump’s brashness is a strength even when it turns off some voters. I talked with one Trump supporter in Miami, who told me Trump was the change that Washington needs, even though she feared she would not agree with all the changes that he would make.

4. It’s the Economy, Stupid

Democrats and their nominee have forgotten Bill Clinton’s successful motto in his successful 1992 race. President Bush was a good leader and a decent man, but he was dragged down by a weak economy, and the heart and soul of the GOP was still smarting that he had broken his promise and had decided to raise taxes. If you look at the wide variety of polling, it is clear to see that a large factor contributing to voters pessimism are shaky economic prospects.

After the collapse of the housing market (under George W. Bush) together with an extended period with low returns on savings, and the constant announcements of companies leaving the U.S., the average American for the first time believes our best days are behind us. Lester Holt raised these questions early in the debate, and on the questions of taxes, regulations and international trade deals, Trump was his most poised, informed and ready. It was a great advantage to Trump to have a chance to field these questions early, perform well, and allow him to brilliantly ask Hillary Clinton, why after thirty years she has not been able to improve the situation.

5. Deploying Deplorables

Towards the end of the debate, Secretary Clinton was able to make a specific charge about a former Miss Universe, and along the way she was able to make clear that she believes Donald Trump is a racist, a misogynist. If this election is about competing plans on the economy, on terrorism and on changing Washington, she will lose.

She needs to make this election about Donald Trump being unfit to be in the Oval Office. It’s her only path, but when she changed the focus from Trump history to a broad judgement on decent, patriotic Trump supporters who fit neatly in a basket of deplorables, she put major obstacles in her path.

Now when she attacks Trump for intolerance, many voters believe that she is attacking them and their desire to fight back against political correctness, shaming and safe spaces. This is a similar dynamic that was witnessed in the GOP primaries, when those who mocked Trump were destroying their chances to coax unsure voters away from Trump.

With a little over a month left on the campaign trail, and three more debates I think each of these debates are a potential last stand, or at least the two remaining presidential debates. The biggest story coming out of Hofstra, was that neither candidate committed a major gaffe and that each realizes that creating one will determine whether they take the oath or a long vacation come inauguration day in January next year.

Matt Schlapp is chairman of the American Conservative Union and CPAC. He was the White House political director to President George W. Bush.


The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill

Tags 2016 Presidential debates 2016 presidential election Bill Clinton Commission On Presidential Debates Democratic Party Donald Trump Hempstead Hillary Clinton Republican Party United States

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