Clinton vs. Trump (Debate I)
Last night was the event that I have been waiting for the last six months! Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump engaged in a Presidential debate!
For a political junkie like me this is like a major prize fight. So let’s break it down.
The debate topics were:
Secretary Clinton got a chance to make the first comments and she used her time to talk about how she wanted to create jobs in all sectors of American economy. She said she would pay for these initiatives by raising taxes and closing loopholes in the tax system. Honestly a more polished politician could have pressed her on exactly how those measures alone would pay for all her initiative, but Donald Trump is not a polished politician. For his part Mr. Trump launched into a clearly unprepped response by stressing one of his pet themes that jobs are fleeing the United States in droves and that he has an unspecified plan to bring those jobs back. He said that companies are building plants in Mexico and that his plan included reducing taxes on businesses from 35% to 15%.
From there the debate shifted to trade deals. Secretary Clinton stated that she was for smart fair trade deals and quickly attacked Trump for rehashing old trickle down economics. In this political prize fight she was able to land her first stiff right cross, by calling her opponents strategy Trumped up Trickle Down. She continued her attack on Trump by going after his background and raising doubts that his business acumen was what he claimed. Trump countered by claiming that he could be successful in bringing back jobs and that he would succeed in an area in which she and others had failed for the past 30 years. He was able to establish a decent argument for himself as an outsider by claiming that insiders like Clinton couldn’t deliver. However, it wouldn’t have been Trump if he did not make a weird additional statement that a way to prevent corporations from going overseas would be to tax imports. As was her wont throughout the night Mrs. Clinton let this comment hang, but the fact is if America imposes taxes on goods from other countries, those countries will retaliate in kind, which will likely spark trade wars. One thing I observed about Donald Trump is he is actually has pretty good instincts when it comes to debate, but those instincts are undermined by his complete lack of knowledge of the issues.
Clinton returned fire by training attention on the economic disasters of the past ten years and she claimed we are on the precipice of economic prosperity. Trump continued to attack by attacking President Obama’s record and claiming he was partially or wholly responsible for jobs leaving the country. This was an effort to tie Hillary to President Obama. Hillary actually accepted this premise and then made a comment about how she was proud of her husband’s record. She would probably be better off staying away from his record. She continued by saying that she would enforce the trade deals.
Trump continued his attack on free trade agreements by attacking NAFTA and other free trade agreements in general saying that they caused devastation. This was Trump’s best point in the debate. He attacked Clinton for being involved with trade for 30 years and endorsing free trade deals. He was able to press her on the Trans Pacific Partnership. On these two points he really has an argument against Secretary Clinton, but he pivoted from those points and continued to talk about how tax cuts will create jobs.
The thing that struck me about the debate on taxes is that it was pretty much the same debate that Republicans and Democrats have been having for the past forty years. Donald Trump made the conservative argument if he cuts taxes it will create jobs and boost the economy, and Hillary Clinton made the argument that we should raise taxes at least on the top 1% so that we can redistribute that wealth for social programs which will benefit everyone.
Eventually the moderator Lester Holt, turned the debate to Trump’s tax record. Hillary pounced on this issue, raising questions about Trump releasing his personal tax record. Surprisingly, Trump seemed to admit that he hasn’t really paid taxes saying it made him “smart.” Trump responded by saying that he would release his tax record if Mrs. Clinton released her e-mails.
Race and Police Brutality
From this point on Secretary Clinton got the best of the debate because Trump answered questions about Police Brutality by saying that African Americans and Hispanics were “living in hell” and that the only way to stop the chaos in urban areas was to enforce “law and order” and to potentially bring back stop and frisk. This response was incredibly tone deaf on the issue and was completely bereft of any nuance or understanding of race issues in America. In fact this response plays as racist based on how Trump responded. For her part Hillary gave an eloquent response that acknowledged that we need to address systemic racism and that we need to put an end to the corporate prison system. She reiterated her support for No fly No buy (You can see my opinion of that here.)
This topic started out about how to secure America from cyberattack. At this point Secretary Clinton seemed to be smelling blood and continued to build on her attacks of Trump’s business record by pointing out that some of the most recent cyberattacks came from Russia and Trump seemingly has a cozy relationship with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Trump at this point gave a weird response that we don’t know who did the attack, when the evidence shows that it was done by Russia. Throughout the entirety of this section Donald Trump gave a lot of rambling answers that didn’t make a lot of sense, while Clinton gave concise answers that reflected her command of the facts.
Trump is clearly in over his head when it comes to matters of foreign policy. Among other things he seemed to endorse a global protection racket which would involve other countries paying the United States for protection and asserting that somehow if we would have taken oil out of Iraq it would stabilize the Middle East.
If this debate was like a prize fight, Donald Trump was like a knockout specialist who tried to knock Secretary Clinton out with huge wild punches in the early rounds. For her part Secretary Clinton, was like a cagey veteran fighter who has been in long fights before. She is a smart debater who will occasionally leave openings but will continue to hammer at her opponents weaknesses the way a good fighter establishes a jab. She danced around Mr. Trump and walked him into positions where she could really land heavy blows on him. She set him up by calling his fiscal policy Trumped Up Trickle Down, she attacked him for not releasing his taxes, she countered his attacks about her being over prepared by saying and demonstrating that she was prepared to be president; and she pointed out his support for racist beliefs and business practices. She really went after him and attacked him much more than I expected and she was good at it. She knew when to attack and when to let Trump talk himself into deep holes. The issues that Clinton exposed will likely dog Trump for the remainder of the campaign. If the debate was the first twenty minutes Trump could claim that he was even with Clinton, but as the debate went the full ninety minutes it was clear that Mr. Trump was well out of his depth and wholly unqualified to engage in a presidential debate, much less actually serve as president. Trump tried to attack Clinton for not having the stamina to be president, but during the debate it looked like it was he who did not have the stamina to wade into the deep policy debates that are required of a world leader.
As I said before Clinton does have some openings such as her e-mails or her switching positions on free trade that could be exploited by a savvier person, but Donald Trump is just not focused or capable enough to do it.