By Henry Feldman
Political debates are like boxing matches in that both competitors claim victory and celebrate as if they won regardless of how the battle went down.
Immediately after Sunday night’s debate, vice presidential candidate Mike Pence took to Twitter to congratulate his running mate on a “big win.” While I have feelings about who won the second debate, I am going to try to leave those feelings in my notes, far away from the eyes of readers. This isn’t to say, however, that I can’t make an objective assessment of how last night’s proceedings affected each candidate.
Just two days before the Second Presidential Debate at Washington University in St. Louis, The Washington Post released tapes from 2005 that sent the Trump campaign into a panic. The tapes detailed a conversation Mr. Trump had with a TV host in which Trump said you can do “anything” to women “when you’re a star. . .” (Washington Post). He continued to talk about how he feels entitled to treat women however he wants because of his celebrity status, producing some comments that are simply too vulgar to repeat.
Since the release of this tape, 16 incumbent Republican Senators have renounced their support for Trump, and Paul Ryan has uninvited the Republican nominee from campaigning with him in Wisconsin (Huffington Post). The past two days have seen the subject of Trump’s comments become one of the single most discussed topics of 2016, and Trump has already started to dip in the polls. One wouldn’t think that appearing in front of the nation against his biggest foe would help Trump’s case— and for the most part, it didn’t.
The first half of the debate was particularly vicious, as Clinton used Trump’s comments from the tape to launch a platform of attack surrounding Trump’s attitude toward the American people. Clinton invoked Trump’s comments about POWs (John McCain), his post-DNC remarks about the Khan family, his mocking of a disabled reporter, his pursuit of the birther controversy and his claims about the Mexican judge being unsuitable due to his race. Clinton tried to paint herself as a candidate that cares for all Americans, even the ones who don’t support her. She referenced Michelle Obama’s powerful quote, “When they go low, we go high”, and repeated the phrase “America is great because it is good.”
Trump did his best to defend himself throughout this portion of the debate, relying on Bill Clinton’s rape scandals, among other things. He talked about how Hillary Clinton “attacked” her husband’s alleged rape victims, and referred to Bill’s actions as “abusive.” Trump also defended himself by bringing up Hillary’s use of a private email server, her “all talk, no action” political history, and the fact that she didn’t win the Democratic primary fair-and-square. Though these defenses may not have sufficiently counteracted Clinton’s barrage of attacks, Trump’s performance in the latter half of the debate will help his candidacy.
After personal matters were covered, the undecided voters’ questions at the Town-Hall debate were more geared toward the issues facing the nation. Both candidates attempted to lay out their plans to address the Syrian Civil War/refugee crisis, healthcare reform, and economic problems. This portion of the debate gave Trump an opportunity to shift the national dialogue away from his shameful comments. Trump is very fortunate that the debate came only two days after the tapes were released, as opposed to a full week. The media generally talks about an issue until there is something else to talk about, and luckily for Trump, come Monday morning, that ‘something else’ will be the Second Presidential Debate.
Regarding the state of Clinton’s candidacy, not much has changed. She will look to keep the nation’s focus on Trump’s comments from the tape, and continue to emphasize that she respects all Americans. Her debate performance will likely receive less attention than that of her opponent, which I’m sure she will be fine with.
The final Presidential Debate is scheduled for October 19th at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Judging from the course of this election, a lot will have changed when we return to our couches for the third installment of the Clinton-Trump trilogy. That being said, Sunday’s contest should provide people with plenty to talk about for the next nine days— not to mention some priceless SNL material. Are you not entertained?