Talia Rosenberg ‘17
This election seems to have been going on for ages but finally, with all the debates out of the way, it will soon come to a close. Since the primary, both candidates have been doing their best to undermine the other, and huge tensions have formed between them. The expectations going into the first debate were very different for the two sides. Clinton needed to appear capable and powerful, yet relatable and likeable. She couldn’t be too emotional but it was also unfavourable for her to come off as “cold.” Trump, on the other hand, after all of his colorful comments in the recent months, needed to overcome a low bar of expectation. All he had to do was behave and not say anything crazy. On September 26th, people were anxious to see how the candidates would control themselves during the first debate.
The three points of discussion in the first debate were “America’s Direction,” “Achieving Prosperity,” and “Securing America.” However, it seemed like the only thing that mattered was who was better at attacking whom. In this first debate, Hillary came out the better attacker, winning with 62% of voters in most post debate polls. She focused in on Trump’s tax returns, the failed birther movement, past sexist comments, his comments on Vladimir Putin, and the people he cheated in his business. Trump attempted to prove that Hillary lacks stamina, which she quickly shut down by reminding him of the countless hours of hard travel involved in being secretary of state. Verbally dominated by Hillary, Trump decided to finish himself off. He claimed that his best attribute is his temperament, which, as members of both parties know, is not true. There was a lot discussed at the debate. What it came down to, though, was not about the policy they presented, but how they presented themselves that night.
Going into the second debate Trump needed to redeem himself because of his performance in the first debate, and because of the leaked 2005 tape in which he can be heard making extremely sexist comments and admitting to sexual assault. Trump really needed to pull out the best performance of his life. Yet, instead of remaining cool and calm, Trump was repetitive, rude, and aggressive. He lurked behind her on the stage and appeared creepy.
Clinton on the other hand had a lot to gain from this debate. After the debate, many pundits critiqued the fact that she didn’t attack him hard enough. The BBC noted that Hillary supporters were “hoping for a political kill shot that would push Mr Trump’s remaining supporters toward the exit and turn the last month of the campaign into a glorified mop-up operation.” The hope was that had she been more aggressive, then she may have been able to end his campaign by the end of the debate. That said, even without comments from Clinton, Trump seemed to do fine enough on his own, making Trump look bad. Trump and the moderators, that is. It’s fair to say that the moderators were with her.
Trump interrupted Clinton almost 20 times which did not help raise the reputation of his temperament. He also referred to his comments on the leaked tape as “locker room” talk, as if there is a genre of conversation that should allow for such horrific comments to be made. In one moment he even openly disagreed with something his running mate had said publicly about how to best intervene in Syria. Even when he tried to attack Hillary in an attempt to rise up, his attacks were muddled by repetition. By the end of this debate I had to ask myself, how many times can one say “Bernie Sanders says Hillary Clinton has bad judgement” before it becomes ineffective? Regardless of which candidate you support, there is no question that Clinton took the cake at the town hall debate. She approached those asking questions, she looked at them with empathy, and she answered with grace. One may not agree with all of her policies, but people have to admit she was the most well “tempered” candidate on that stage. Despite all of this madness, the debate ended on a positive note: the final question of the night read, “would either of you name one positive thing you respect in one another?” Clinton responded that although she disagrees with him on basically everything, she respects how Trump has raised his children. For his part, Trump responded by saying that although he, too, disagrees with Clinton on most subjects, he cannot deny that “she doesn’t quit. She doesn’t give up. She’s a fighter”.
In the last debate it seemed both of them really valued that quality of being a fighter since they spent most of the time directly arguing. Of course, it is called a debate, but it felt more like a juvenile quarrel. By the time this third and final debate rolled around Donald’s poll numbers had fallen very low and a lot of political analysts claimed, like they had in the second debate, that unless he absolutely killed it in his performance, he would basically be out. Because of the overwhelming thought that Trump has no chance, debate moderator Christopher Wallace questioned him on the peaceful transfer of power. He asked that if he loses, would Trump would accept the results? Trump said “I’ll keep you in suspense, I’ll tell you at the time.” Never in election history has a candidate refused to accept the results of an election.
With this final debate the 2016 presidential election continues to defy any imagination of what an American election is supposed to look like. As for who will win the fight to the finish line, we’ll all have to wait until November 8th to find out.