The First Trump-Clinton Debate: A Brief Analysis

There were just a few moments of the debate that frame the more unconventional wisdom that Trump may have done better with many voters than some of the media smart people might suspect.

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By Gary Hoitsma l October 3, 2016

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The aftermath of the first Trump-Clinton debate unleashed a veritable cacophony of political spin. But what a voter concluded about the debate often depended on what exactly resonated with that voter from the debate.

The debate was not even over before the “inside-the-beltway” conventional wisdom was set in stone, having “trickled down” in a matter of minutes from the sophisticated amorphous twitterverse to all the network TV anchors and expert commentators: That because of his flaws, missed opportunities and being put repeatedly on the defensive, Trump lost, and therefore Clinton won. Thus the conclusion: The campaign momentum would be changed. Clinton would be on the upswing and Trump on the downswing.

At the same time, in this instance it seems quite possible that — outside the beltway media bubble – not a few voters and prospective voters had come on their own quite different conclusion: Namely, that the unconventional outsider candidate – Mr. Trump – despite his flaws and missed opportunities, had actually demonstrated a demeanor, a confidence, a leadership style and a colloquial common sense that actually thrust him over a certain minimum threshold of plausibility, if not acceptability, to be president – a major hurdle for his upstart candidacy.

Conventional wisdom holds that Trump essentially lost the exchanges on the birther issue, the tax returns issues, and the Miss Universe issue where moderator Holt and candidate Clinton goaded him to talk about things well off of his preferred campaign message. For the media, these then became the defining moments of the debate to be hashed and rehashed in the dominant debate spin aftermath.

The more unconventional wisdom might be that there were a few other moments in the debate that flew by under the big media radar, but that resonated with not a few of the 80 million people watching. These would include the following Trump lines about these important issues:

EXPERIENCE: “Hillary, I’d just ask you this. You’ve been doing this for 30 years. Why are you just thinking of these solutions right now?

TRADE: “You called (TTP) the gold standard of trade deals. And then you heard what I said about it, and all of a sudden you were against it…Typical politician. All talk, no action. “

JOBS/TAXES: “I’m going to cut regulations. I’m going to cut taxes big league, and you’re going to raise taxes big league. End of story.”

LEADERSHIP: “Here’s the thing. Republican and Democrats agree that (the repatriation of $2.5 trillion in overseas assets) should be done…And with a little leadership, you’d get it here very quickly…But we have no leadership. And honestly that starts with Secretary Clinton.”

EMAIL CONTROVERSY: “That was more than a mistake. That was done purposely.”

RESTORING INNER CITIES: “Well, first of all, Secretary Clinton doesn’t want to use a couple of words. And that’s law and order…The African American community has been let down by our politicians. They talk good around election time….and after the election, they said, see ya later, I’ll see you in four years.”

TEMPERAMENT/DEMOCRATIC VALUES: “The answer is, if she wins, I will absolutely support her.”

These were just a few of moments of the debate that frame the more unconventional wisdom that Trump may have done better with many voters than some of the media smart people might suspect.


Gary Hoitsma served as special assistant to Ray Barnhart during Barnhart’s tenure as Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, under President Ronald Reagan and is a former aide to U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK). Mr. Hoitsma is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.

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