Debate Debrief.

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Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump face off last night. 

A comfortable win for Hillary, but does it matter?

Yesterday night, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump finally collided in the first Presidential debate of the 2016 campaign.

For each candidate, what would have constituted a successful debate was rather different. For Trump, arguably the most important thing was to show that he had some depth of policy knowledge which stretched beyond the soundbites and freewheeling style he employed to great effect during the Republican primary debates. For Clinton, there was always going to be a focus on her stamina, after the recent scrutiny regarding her health.

In this debate, it is fair to say that Trump started brightly. He did well to bring up Clinton’s praise of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal as the “gold standard” of trade deals; whilst his criticism of Clinton’s near thirty years spent in Washington may resonate well with blue collar workers in important swing states such as Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Trump also got cheers from the audience following his early exclamation that he was “going to cut taxes bigly”, whilst Clinton was planning to “raise taxes bigly”. As is often the way with Trump, the choice of language was strange, but it seemed to resonate with the audience nonetheless.

However, for Trump that was about as good as it got. When the debate moved onto law and order and foreign policy, his lack of policy knowledge was exposed. He suggested that murder rates in New York City are rising following less use of stop-and-frisk, when in fact they are on the decline. He also stated that Clinton had been “fighting ISIS her entire adult life”, slightly odd given that Clinton was born in 1947 and ISIS only properly formed in 2006. He also struggled to convince with his ‘secret plan to fight ISIS’, which realistically seems to amount to having no plan at all.

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Trump’s tenuous relationship with the truth (PolitiFact). 

Earlier in the debate Trump came close to admitting he didn’t pay federal income tax. When pressed by Clinton about why he wouldn’t release his tax returns, he offered to do so if Clinton released her deleted e-mails. A good response, and in keeping with the Trump campaign’s aim of making Clinton look as untrustworthy as possible. However, when Clinton suggested that Trump wasn’t releasing his tax returns because he hadn’t paid income tax, he took the bait and said that not paying tax, “makes me smart”, and that it didn’t matter “because the money would be squandered”. Unsurprisingly, after the debate the Trump campaign denied that Trump had failed to pay income tax. Nonetheless, Trump suggesting what he did was a huge mistake, particularly when he is attempting to pitch himself as a man of the people.

Although Clinton performed solidly, it has to be said that there were several occasions when she should have capitalised. When Trump responded with relish to a question on the profits he made during the banking crisis with “that’s called business, by the way”, Clinton simply ignored it. A better debater would have made it a moment, creating a soundbite which could lead news bulletins. In addition, as expected Clinton came across well-prepared. But, at times some of her answers appeared overly scripted. However, this was in any case better than Trump’s improvisational approach which saw him rambling, along with several instances of him tripping over his words.

One thing Trump did manage was the best soundbite of the debate. In events such as these, one of the most important things can be to create a soundbite which can be played over and over again. In describing Clinton as having “experience but it’s bad experience,” Trump managed this.

But what he failed to do, was control the debate and push his agenda. There was scant mention of immigration, Trump’s keynote policy. Far too often, he seemed to focus on prescribing America’s problems, rather than suggesting policies which could solve these. In addition, he allowed himself to be dragged into a ridiculous discussion on his previous claims regarding Obama’s nationality, and even suggested that these rumours had been started by people close to Clinton.

In contrast, Clinton provided some relatively assured (albeit unexciting) policy proposals. This is something that Trump seriously needs to work on if he is to improve in the next debate.

But, whilst Hillary Clinton was clearly the victor in this first debate, does her victory really matter?

To those voters who have already decided which candidate to vote for, the answer is not really.

Throughout the campaign it has been clear that there is little that will turn Trump supporters away from their chosen candidate. As such, Trump’s clear lack of foreign policy knowledge, brutally exposed during this debate, seems unlikely to have affected his overall popularity. Likewise, those who began the debate with the view that Trump is not qualified to serve as President, and who want to see Hillary Clinton continue President Obama’s legacy, will not have changed their mind.

In short, for decided voters, this debate told them nothing that they didn’t already know.

However, where this debate might have had an effect is in those voters who are still undecided, or who are supporting third-party candidates.

Undecided candidates will have seen one candidate, who despite not being particularly exciting, was solid and well prepared. Whilst her opponent’s rambling answers betrayed a lack of preparedness for the foreign policy challenges which will be faced by the next President.

For those backing third-party candidates, such as the thirteen percent of voters in Colorado who back Libertarian Gary Johnson, this will have been a wake-up call. Many of those backing Johnson are traditional Republican voters dissatisfied with their party’s nominee. As traditional Republicans, ensuring the White House is occupied by someone with strong national security credentials is extremely important. Seeing Trump’s rambling answers on this topic may persuade them to forgo casting a protest vote for Gary Johnson, and instead swallow their pride and vote for Clinton, simply in order to keep Trump out of the White House.

As such, it would be relatively unsurprising for Clinton to gain a small bounce in the polls as a result of this debate. But in this weird election, don’t count on it lasting long.

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All smiles, but it is clear who will have gone home happier. 

 

Hillary Clinton’s pneumonia shouldn’t preclude her from becoming President, but it has certainly handed Donald Trump a real chance.

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton’s doctor revealed that she had been diagnosed with pneumonia on the previous Friday, leading to speculation that she may have to drop out of the race.

There are many on the side of Republican nominee Donald Trump who say that Clinton’s illness has proved that she is not fit to serve as President, and that she should therefore withdraw herself from consideration. However, an illness such as this should not preclude a candidate from consideration in a Presidential race.

There is a long history of ill health amongst individuals serving as President of the United States, and so it should not really be seen as such a problem.

Some of the most celebrated individuals to have served as President suffered from serious health problems during their time in office. Woodrow Wilson suffered a serious stroke whilst in office, and became permanently paralysed on his left side. He continued to run the country whilst keeping his condition a secret from his Cabinet and the general public. John F. Kennedy was diagnosed with Addison’s Disease in 1947, which caused him to suffer from an array of health problems, fourteen years before becoming President. He kept this secret from the electorate whilst projecting an image of youth and vitality during the campaign. And, perhaps most importantly for the Republicans calling on Clinton to drop out, Ronald Reagan, who became the eldest first term President in 1981, was also plagued by an array of serious health problems during his Presidency. This included having to relinquish Presidential power to the Vice-President for a period of eight hours during 1985 whilst he underwent surgery to remove cancerous tissue from his colon. The suitability of these individuals wasn’t questioned in the same way as Hillary Clinton’s is being today.

As long as a candidate can demonstrate the skills and experience to serve as President (and we know that Hillary Clinton certainly can) then their health shouldn’t be a significant problem, and therefore Hillary Clinton should not be perceived negatively as a result of being diagnosed with pneumonia.

On the contrary, she should be applauded for continuing with her heavy schedule despite the onset of illness.

However, although Clinton’s pneumonia should not preclude her from becoming the President, it has handed Donald Trump a significant opportunity. The problem is not the illness itself, but rather the way in which it was handled by the Clinton campaign.

Although Clinton was diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday, this wasn’t revealed by the campaign until Sunday. Prior to this revelation, aides stated that the episode which saw Clinton collapse at the 9/11 commemoration in New York was simply a case of “overheating”.

Now for most candidates, this shouldn’t be a particularly big deal. Although the campaign can be accused of a lack of transparency, candidates on the Presidential campaign trail have historically become ill because of the hectic schedule and have not been expected to disclose their illnesses.

However, the problem for Hillary is that she is already seen to be lacking in honesty. Polling by numerous organisations has suggested that the vast majority of the American electorate do not believe that she is honest and trustworthy. For there to be another instance which allows this accusation to be levelled against her is the last thing that the campaign needs.

This incident only serves to remind the electorate of the Clinton family’s reputation for dishonesty. A reputation perhaps unfairly gained but, in the context of a Presidential campaign, what is fair or unfair doesn’t really come into it. This incident will only serve to remind the electorate of the problems with Clinton’s emails, or of the accusations levelled against her husband during his time as President.

It would be surprising for this incident not to further hit Clinton’s poll numbers, and with only a couple of months until the election, this is the last thing she needs.

If Clinton is to be sure to win this election then she needs to end her lack of openness, described by former Obama strategist David Axelrod as, “an unhealthy penchant for privacy that repeatedly creates unnecessary problems.” Remember that prior to Thursday, the Clinton campaign hadn’t held a proper press conference for around nine months. This lack of transparency hasn’t gone down too well with the press, and is also likely to play into Trump’s hands. Over the course of the campaign Trump has criticised Clinton for looking as though she lacks energy, and this incident is simply going to provide him with another opportunity to do the same.

In any democracy around the world, the electorate do not generally take kindly to having the wool pulled over their eyes. When you take into account the fact that the Clinton campaign already has a reputation for lacking transparency, then failing to disclose the extent of her illness could be an error of great magnitude.

Ultimately, although the illness itself should in no way prevent Hillary Clinton from becoming President, the campaign’s handling of the issue has been poor. Particularly at this late stage in the campaign.

This definitely gives Trump the chance to cash in and gain the momentum once again.

If Clinton is serious about winning the Presidency, then the errors needs to stop. She has had ample opportunity to put the Presidential race to bed, but little slip-ups keep stopping her in her tracks.

If she is going to defeat Trump in November then these errors need to stop, and she needs to open her campaign up to more press scrutiny in order to dispel the views of those who call her dishonest. If she fails to do this, who knows what will happen come November, what is certain though, is that Trump will have the edge.