In what appeared to be the first of her pre-planned lines of attack, Hillary Clinton played off Donald Trump’s assertion that she stayed home while he was busy campaigning, saying:
“I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And, yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president. And I think that’s a good thing.”
In their first presidential debate, Secretary Clinton looked both prepared and presidential. Mr. Trump looked neither.
On foreign policy, Trump was meandering and many times incomprehensible. Clinton deftly explained the purpose of the mutual defense pact at the heart of NATO; explained how the sanctions she helped impose on Iran led to a successful deal that “put a lid” on its nuclear program “without firing a shot;” and explained how to work with our Arab and Kurdish allies to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria and target its leadership, like she participated in taking out Osama bin Laden.
Even more than what she said, it was how she said it. She looked every bit the former Secretary of State, and future president, when she calmly chastised Trump by saying that “words matter” and on behalf of the American people, sought to reassure the world that the United States will honor our international commitments.
On the topic of achieving prosperity and creating jobs, Hillary neatly presented her three-point plan for investing in infrastructure, raising the minimum wage and enacting equal pay for equal work. Trump responded with his familiar trope of bad trade deals. But when specifically asked by moderator Lester Holt how he would specifically bring back manufacturing jobs, Trump had nothing: “Don’t let the jobs leave.” Well, thanks for that, Donald.
Trump tried to fall back on his business experience as a cudgel against Clinton. But Hillary was ready. She explained how he actually rooted for the 2008 housing collapse so he could profit, which he admitted by saying, “That’s called business.” But then she made a frontal assault on Trump’s disastrous economic plan, which would give a big tax break to the wealthy, blow a $5 trillion hole in the debt and lose 3.5 million jobs. She memorably connected his economic policies to those of past failed Republicans: “Trumped-up trickle-down.”
She was even able to humanize income inequality – early on setting the foundation that she is the daughter of a small-town drapery printer. She then recounted how Trump stiffed a multitude of independent contractors at his casinos and properties — and then personally took umbrage on behalf of her father and all small business owners.
Lester Holt didn’t help Donald Trump in asking pointed questions about why he won’t release his tax returns and took so long to renounce his birtherism about Barack Obama’s birthplace. When her damn emails came up, Hillary crisply repeated that it was a mistake and took responsibility. Donald tried, but couldn’t mount an effective counter-attack.
Trump’s body language throughout was most telling. He constantly interrupted (51 times), made faces on the split screen and seemed to drink a gallon of water. He made Marco Rubio’s sip of water during the Republican response to the 2013 State of the Union – which Trump himself mocked during the primaries as an example of “chocking” – seem poised.
As the minutes ticked, Hillary stayed focused and Donald became increasingly incoherent and tired. So it was particularly ironic that Trump closed by repeating (4 times in back-to-back sentences) that Clinton lacked the “stamina” to be president — or the “look,” whatever that means. Hillary, who at that point had put on an energetic performance for 90 minutes with no need for water, thank you, delivered a knock-out:
“[O]ne of the worst things he said was about a woman in a beauty contest. He loves beauty contests, supporting them and hanging around them. And he called this woman ‘Miss Piggy.’ Then he called her ‘Miss Housekeeping,’ because she was Latina.
“Donald, she has a name. . . . Her name is Alicia Machado. . . . And she has become a U.S. citizen, and you can bet. . . she’s going to vote this November.”
If the recent tightening in the polls has reflected the public’s concern with Clinton’s recent bout with pneumonia, tonight proved that she is fully recovered. Hillary Clinton did what she always does: she studied the issues, worked the hardest and came the best prepared. She passed the commander-in-chief test; Trump didn’t. I think the voters will notice that she got her groove back.