Trump economic with truth in bruising US presidential debate against Clinton | us-presidential-election | Hindustan Times
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Trump economic with truth in bruising US presidential debate against Clinton

Trump showed up as the man everyone knew: combative, underprepared, easily riled and still, after months of campaigning, frequently off-message.

us presidential election Updated: Sep 27, 2016 21:47 IST
Yashwant Raj
Donald Trump
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump shakes hands with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton after a debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead.(AP)

The Donald Trump that showed up at this presidential election’s most spectacular showdown so far was one everybody knows: combative, underprepared, easily riled and still, after months of campaigning, frequently off-message.

Hillary Clinton was also everything she was expected to be: well prepared — over-prepared, according one observer — ready with her policy and facts, answers rehearsed to fit the two-minute reply slot, and the right zingers, and plenty of them. They clashed on how they will create jobs, the first subject of the evening, and one of the main issues this election, trade, terrorism, Iran, racism, taxation, and their vision for the US.

Trump dominated the first 20 of the 90-minute debate. Clinton took charge then and had him defending himself for the rest, as only Trump could — interrupting her, talking over her.

So who won? Difficult to say. But here are some observations in the US media. “Clinton jabs put Trump on defense,” ran a headline in The Washington Post. The New York Times, which has endorsed Clinton, said in an editorial: “On balance, she pulled it off, swatting his attacks aside and confidently delivering her own criticisms from higher, firmer ground.” Wall Street Journal agreed: “There’s little doubt that Mrs. Clinton won on debating points.”

Though this debate may not move the needle significantly in a race that has tightened into a dead heat in recent days — Clinton’s lead is down to 2.3 points in RealClearPolitics average of polls— some observers said it could stop Trump’s surge, the momentum that helped him bridge an 8-point gap from mid August.

Trump’s stronger moment of the debate came early when he attacked her on her support for multi-national trade deals that led to crippling job losses in some parts of America. And he accused her of changing her position only to bring it more in line with his, strident opposition.

That was Trump’s strongest moment, and then when he attacked her on her use of a private email server as secretary of state, which Clinton tried to shut down quickly saying she has apologised for it already, and that’s not something she would do again. Trump pressed on, but not for much longer.

For the rest of the 90-minute debate held at a university in New York, Trump was mostly on the defensive, unable to handle questions about his pursuit of birther charges against President Barack Obama, race relations, his failure to release his tax returns, multiple bankruptcies, refusal to pay small business contracted by his companies and allegations of discriminating against black tenants.

He flubbed most of those, which, critics pointed out, he should have anticipated and come prepared for. Instead, he left behind a trail of attack lines for the Clinton campaign to milk for ads.

In an exchange about his failure to pay taxes, and to a specific charge from Clinton that he was not releasing his returns because he was hiding the fact that he may not have paid any federal tax, he said, “That makes me smart”.

On his birther campaign, which was such an easy one to anticipate, Trump sought to shift the blame on to the Clinton campaign reprising a debunked theory, and then sought to turn it into a victory saying the actually forced Obama to release his birth certificate. He can get things done, while Clinton can’t. The Democrat came back with a zinger: “Just listen to what you heard.”

The Republican probably had his worst moment of the night on his position on the Iraq War, which he has maintained he always opposed, when, there is evidence that he supported it before opposing it.

Trump insisted he was always opposed to the war, and ploughed on to Clinton’s ill-concealed delight. He went on to cite radio and TV hosts with whom he had discussed his opposition to the war — specially Sean Hannity, a Fox News host, who got six mentions in less than a minute.

Trump had still not proved anything at the end of it.

(The next, and second presidential debate, is on October 9)