Those of us who were hoping for sweet release after last night’s presidential debate are going to have to cradle their unmentionables for a little while longer. The long-awaited first clash between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton ended with no surprises, no twists, and no knockout blows. Indeed, from an entertainment perspective, the debate was a massive letdown. Everyone and their mother was expecting Hillary to drop dead at the podium, or at least stroke out like Kermit the Frog on meth; no such luck.
Having said that, a soft debate performance may end up benefiting Trump in the long haul.
My assessment of the debate was that it was a moderate win for Trump: while he failed to land any body blows, he managed to hit Hillary on a few key spots, and most importantly, he won in the realm of emotion. Hillary’s stiff, prefab performance, focused on statistics and memorized factoids, had little emotional resonance for anyone not already inside her reality distortion field. Conversely, Trump’s use of rhetoric cut through the audience’s veneer of rationality and hit viewers on a gut level.
In particular, Trump visibly triggered Hillary multiple times throughout the debate, and while her off-the-cuff remarks weren’t nuclear level bad, they were bad enough to hurt her already diminishing chances of winning. The debate’s key moment came near the beginning, when Trump was grilling Clinton on her support for NAFTA and free trade agreements that have wiped out the country’s manufacturing base. For the middle class, NAFTA was the most destructive piece of legislation in American history, eliminating countless jobs and plunging much of the Midwest and Northeast into poverty and ruin… and it was signed into law by Bill Clinton.
Hillary’s response to Trump pointing out the disaster of NAFTA: “That is your opinion.”
The combination of her flippant words, dismissive tone and haughty body language was an ugly glimpse at the real Hillary, the one middle America doesn’t often get to see. Her triggered reaction to Trump’s questioning recalls her infamous meltdown four years during a Senate hearing, where she blurted out “What difference does it make?” in response to being questioned over the attack at Benghazi. Given that Trump has built his campaign in part on criticizing free trade, her “let them eat cake” dismissal was a death wish. Hillary’s remarks have guaranteed that she will lose the Rust Belt states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan, and with them, the election.
The other highlights include Trump refusing to allow Hillary or affirmative-action moderator Lester Holt to push him around, a stark contrast to Republican nominees of the past. When Holt attempted to set Trump up as a sexist by bringing up his remarks on how Hillary doesn’t “look” like a president, the Donald reframed the discussion to revolve around her health and stamina. Similarly, when the two of them tried to gang up on Trump for his unreleased tax returns, he broached the subject of Hillary’s deleted emails: you know, the ones the FBI was investigating her over? Trump even hit her on her infamous “super-predators” remark during the race relations segment and mocked her for her Russophobe conspiracy theorizing.
The energy in the debate faded by the midway point, and Hillary arguably did a better job in the last half-hour, but her weak performance in the first thirty minutes sealed this debate as a Trump win. It’s likely that the Donald didn’t knock her out in the first round because he wanted to feel her out first and soften her up for some haymakers in the second and third debates. He may have also wanted to avoid a rerun of 2012, where Mitt Romney won the first debate against President Obama but flamed out on rounds two and three.
Ultimately, even if the public doesn’t perceive the debate as a Trump win (unlikely, as he’s winning every major online poll, even the one put out by scammer progressive talk show The Young Turks), it’s unlikely it will move the needle in Hillary’s direction. She may have been able to hold it together for one night with all the magic her pharmacologists could conjure up, but her personality and platform will doom her in the long run. The lion always toys with his prey before ripping its throat out.