Hillary Clinton bests Donald Trump in the first presidential debate: Five things we learned

Trump discovers that bombast and bluster only gets you so far on the debate stage

The First US Presidential Debate - in 90 seconds

It was a national event. The streets of cities from New York to Los Angeles seemed miraculously to empty. Apartment windows glowed in the night with the screens of televisions tuned to the first presidential debate.

Some will have remained tuned to it for the first thirty minutes only - Donald Trump’s least disastrous patch - and some will have stayed there for the full 90 minutes.

But what did we learn on Monday night about these two candidates, who are near negative images of themselves. Maybe not a whole lot, but enough that some voters may come away with new voting intentions. Here are are a few of those things:

She smiles more and split screens are a good thing

After the national security town hall in New York two weeks ago when the candidates appeared separately and back-to-back, top Republicans said she didn’t smile enough.

She smiled almost the whole way through Monday’s debate. He wore his grim face. She offered the occasional joke, quipping for example that the way things were going she would end up being blamed for everyone that has gone in America for the last so many years.

The split screen showed a one person enjoying herself, the other one looking like he had a lemon under his tongue.

A pithy apology and then moving on works

Ms Clinton was, of course, asked about her use of a private email server when she was Secretary of State. It was a “mistake” and “if I had to do it over again I would obviously do it differently,” she said.

He attempted to keep the issue alive. “That was more than a mistake,” but the window for him to exploit the issue had already been closed by her. In the 90 minutes, the issue that had dogged her since she first declared was thus rapidly dispensed with.

Opposition research is still important

In fairness, the national media had done much of Ms Clinton’s work for her, but she understood that most voters haven’t really been paying attention to all those exposes about Mr Trump’s misdemeanors and used the debate to give them oxygen, whether it was his bankruptcies, his record of disrespecting women or his refusal to release his tax returns.

And she had one story that we hadn’t heard before. It was a zinger. He once referred to a Mexican woman who was a contestant in one of his beauty pageants, “Miss Housekeeper”.

She knew the woman’s name. She knew she had since won American citizenship - and said she would surely vote in November. (Not for Trump was the insinuation.)

A moderator does their job best when they let the candidates run more or less free:

Lester Holt of NBC News had been in a spin dryer in the run-up to the debate. One campaign wanted him to act as fact-checker (Clinton), the other wanted him to be a potted plant. (Trump).

He found a middle ground, refusing to let Mr Trump get away with the assertion that he had opposed the Iraq War when we know that is not the full truth. But generally, he let the candidates do the work of challenging one another and it led to a lively, gripping encounter.

Even though the social media verdict was that Holt allowed Trump to talk for too long and interrupt too much.

Believing that channelling your own election events at a debate is a mistake:

The speculation before the debate was that Mr Trump had not done much by way of preparation. That certainly appeared to be the case during the debate.

Whereas Ms Clinton had clearly thought carefully about how to handle Mr Trump and ensured that he behaved to type. She offered him the bait on issues from his tax returns to his history of birtherism and each time he took it, tangling himself in defensive and muddled responses.

He became peeved - interrupting her more than 50 times during the 90 minutes of debate - whereas she was allowed mostly to appear serene.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in