Horowitz: Clinton Soundly Defeats Trump in First Debate

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

 

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Research shows that the predominant effect of debates are to reinforce candidate preferences rather than to change minds.  For solid Clinton or Trump supporters, last night’s debate is unlikely to be an exception to that general rule. Both candidates’ supporters mostly likely believe that their preferred candidate won. 

But Hillary Clinton’s decisive besting of Donald Trump last night is likely to be highly persuasive for some for the remaining undecided voters and for a substantial percentage of voters now indicating support for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, the Libertarian and Green Party candidates respectively.

Shedding her usual defensiveness when attacked, Hillary Clinton came across as poised and prepared, seeming unruffled by Trump's constant interruptions and filibustering.   In a matter of fact and conversational manner, she effectively highlighted some of Trump’s major vulnerabilities, including his record of business bankruptcies and stiffing of workers and contractors, his failure to release his income taxes, his disrespect for women and his racially tinged birther crusade against President Obama.  Just as importantly, she crisply outlined her proposals for expanding middle class opportunity as well as her ideas for confronting terrorism at home and abroad.

In contrast, Donald Trump offered few specifics, and repeated the already debunked falsehoods about being a declared opponent of the Iraq War and that Hillary Clinton was the originator of the questions about Obama’s birth. The results of his refusal to abandon these lies will be post-debate media fact-check reinforcing voters’ opinions that he is mendacious.  Further, he still offered no apology or credible explanation for his birther crusade, further insulting people’s intelligence by trying to argue that somehow this was a service to President Obama.

While Trump’s general argument about the need for change and the problems with continuing the status quo as represented by Hillary Clinton were generally appealing, his failure to provide specifics, obvious lack of command of basic policy information and aggressive and off-putting demeanor are likely to result in him winning few converts.

Before the debate, most likely voters believed that Donald Trump was not qualified to be President nor did they believe he has the right temperament for the job.  He did nothing last night to overcome these major barriers to his victory; in fact, it was just the opposite.

Hillary Clinton entered the debate as the favorite with a small, but durable lead in the national horse-race and far more paths to the needed 270 electoral votes  She emerged from last night in even stronger shape, driving home the points of contrast that work best for her: who is qualified, who has the right temperament, and who is best to lead a diverse nation. There is still along way to go in what remains a relatively close race. We may look back at last night’s debate, however, as one of the key moments in the election--one that smoothed Hillary Clinton’s so far bumpy path to the Presidency.

 

 Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.

 

Related Slideshow: Winners, Losers, and Defining Moments in First Clinton - Trump Debate

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Darrell West, Brookings

1. Who do you think won?

Clinton won the debate by controlling the conversation and getting many more of her attack lines into the debate. He barely mentioned her emails and made no mention of Benghazi.

2. Why do you think the other candidate lost?

He missed many opportunities to criticize her. Her killer line was that she prepared for the debate and is prepared to be president.

He got irritated easily and had many sighs and groans. He did not have a good answer on why he has not released his tax returns.

3. What was the defining moment - what does it mean for the campaigns moving forward? 

He had a number of factual errors in his statements. This was not a close debate. She dominated from start to end.
 

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Jennifer Duffy, Cook Report

1. Who do you think won?

I think Clinton "won," but I don't think she scored any knock out blows.

2. Why do you think the other candidate lost?

As expected, Trump wasn't prepared.  Clinton threw a lot of bait and Trump took it every time.

3. What was the defining moment - what does it mean for the campaigns moving forward? 

I don't know that there was a defining moment.  Whatever impact this debate may have will be short lived. I don't think this moved the needle much for either candidate.
 

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Jennifer Lawless, Professor at American University

1. Who do you think won?

Clinton, and it wasn't even close. She won on substance, style, and reminding viewers of her opponents weaknesses. She was prepared, kept her cool, and was very respectful of both Trump and Lester Holt.

2. Why do you think the other candidate lost?

Donald Trump was on the defensive the entire night. He attempted to bait Clinton and it never worked. But every time Clinton tried to do the same, Trump took the bait. You know it's bad when a candidate has to reference private conversations with Sean Hannity as a defense of his character and policy positions.

3. What was the defining moment - what does it mean for the campaigns moving forward? 

When Hillary Clinton responded to Trump's criticism that she wasn't campaigning this week, she told voters that she spent the week preparing for the debate, and that she'll also prepare when she's president. That one response really highlighted a key difference between them and the fact that experience matters. It also seemed that at that point, Trump started to come undone.
I should also note that there will likely be a lot of discussion about the extent to which Trump was sexist or was beating up on a woman. Here's my take: He was behaving EXACTLY the way he did with Bush, Rubio, etc. I see little here that is about Clinton being a woman. Trump has demonstrated time and again that he has no respect for people he debates, women or men. That's not to say that Trump isn't sexist. I think the evidence suggests he is. But I'm not sure that his behavior tonight is the best evidence for that claim.

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June Speakman, Professor at RWU 

1. Who do you think won?

The two candidates stayed true to their primary contests styles. Trump was unscripted and undisciplined. Clinton was practiced and policy-focused. Clinton... is likely to have moved some of those undecideds her way. 

2. Why do you think the other candidate lost?

Trump probably did not lose his hard core supporters tonight because he performed pretty much as he had in the primaries. What is likely is that voters who were leaning his way but undecided, may have moved away from him. 

3. What was the defining moment - what does it mean for the campaigns moving forward? 

I watched the debate with about 100 students about 25 of whom were sporting Trump hats and shirts. As the debate went on, the Trump supporters became increasingly quiet and then began to leave.  Hilary's contingent, for its part, became more jubilant.   That should tell you something. 
 

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Matt Guardino, Professor at Providence College 

1. Who do you think won?

On most measures, I would say Clinton won, but it was close. She didn’t start out well – her answers seemed stiff and too full of policy details that were hard to digest. But Clinton got better and stronger as the debate went on. She exhibited policy knowledge, competence, and a calm but firm temperament in the face of some tough questions and provocations from Trump.

2. Why do you think the other candidate lost?

In the end, Trump lost because I think he failed to convince a lot of undecided voters that he has the temperament and command of issues to be president. While he may have outperformed many people’s expectations on these fronts, it wasn’t enough to give him a significant boost. He did really well in the first half or so of the debate – for example, his segments on trade were right on point with his message and he had Clinton on the defensive – but he couldn’t maintain that momentum.    

3. What was the defining moment - what does it mean for the campaigns moving forward?  

It’s hard to pin down a defining moment in this one. I would say that it was about half-way through, when Clinton began to go on the offensive about Trump’s tax returns, his business record, his company’s past issues with race relations and his skepticism about President Obama’s citizenship. All those moments – but especially the exchange about the president’s birth certificate --- were great for Clinton. She was aggressive while remaining dignified, while Trump was overly combative and provided fairly unpersuasive answers.

I think largely because of that sequence, Clinton may get a bit of bump in the polls from this debate. Given the volatility of this campaign, it’s hard to say how lasting that will be.   

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Joe Paolino, Clinton Apointee, Ambassador to Malta

1. Who do you think won?

I don't know if there's a big winner -- I know that some said there was a high bar set for Hillary Clinton and she surpassed it 

2. Why do you think the other candidate lost?

I think Trump lost a lot of points about  his taxes. Give us something -- he's the only person in 40 years who hasn't released them. And when it came to nuclear bomb and the whole discussion about NATO he didn't have the grasp that she did.

3. What was the defining moment - what does it mean for the campaigns moving forward? 
I think that when [Lester] Holt asked at the end, the Trump line that she didn't "look Presidential," I thought she'd give a Lincoln Chafee response and just end it there, but she didn't. I think it showed that Trump just doesn't have the temperament. 
 

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Travis Rowley, Conservative Activist

1. Who do you think won?

It’s anybody’s guess how voters will respond to what mostly amounted to incoherent blather, and an exhibition of personality. With that said, Hillary did manage to successfully blame the Obama economy on George W. Bush and free-market economic policies several times.

2. Why do you think the other candidate lost?

Trump failed over and over again to connect economic despair with eight years of top-down progressivism. When you combine that with Clinton’s success in keeping Trump on the defensive most of the night, reasonable people could decide that Hillary was last night’s winner.

3. What was the defining moment - what does it mean for the campaigns moving forward? 

I can’t imagine two less articulate candidates, particularly the apish Donald Trump. I also can’t imagine a bigger waste of time – in terms of substantive debate. Clinton’s personal attacks spawned petty bickering over the origin of the birther movement, Trump’s tax returns, Clinton’s physical endurance, and who is the kinder and less racist individual. This crowded out important discussions over foreign policy, freedom, socialism, the Constitution, the Supreme Court, policy specifics, and Hillary’s corrupt dealings and scandals in regards to Benghazi and the Clinton Foundation.

Of course, Trump – an impulsive liberal who happens to be championing several important conservative issues – remains the better choice, largely because he operates from within the Republican Party, a more conservative network whose members will undoubtedly have access and influence over the direction of the Oval Office should he occupy it.
 

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John DePetro, WPRO Radio Host

1. Who do you think won?

I think Trump won.  Donald Trump hit all the key points with his supporters (trade, ISIS, crime), and hit Hillary on 30 years of failed leadership.

2. Why do you think the other candidate lost?

Hillary was overly prepared, had obvious set talking points, and never touched on inner city crime . Hillary had a fake smile, fake  laugh, and condescending attitude. 

3. What was the defining moment - what does it mean for the campaigns moving forward? 

Key moments were missing question: Clinton foundation, Benghazi, and email scandal. Lester Holt was clearly more aggressive towards Trump on taxes and birther issue. 
 

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Mike Stenhouse, Center for Freedom and Prosperity

1. Who do you think won?

Clinton better accomplished her goal of getting under Trump's skin, than Trump did in trying to show that he has thick skin ... even though Trump may have won two of the three debate sections.

2. Why do you think the other candidate lost?

The American people lost, as it more obvious than ever that we have very poor Presidential choices this November 8.

3. What was the defining moment - what does it mean for the campaigns moving forward? 

Very early on ... when Trump showed that he could not maintain equanimity, he lost a major opportunity to attract voters skeptical of his presidential demeanor.
 

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Lauren Niedel, RI Coordinator for Bernie Sanders

1. Who do you think won?

The clear winner of the debate was Clinton.

2. Why do you think the other candidate lost?

The clear loser the entire Republican Party and mainstream media for allowing Trump  to be the Republican nominee.  He is a buffoon.

3. What was the defining moment - what does it mean for the campaigns moving forward? 

Best moment for Trump - he was right the Obama administration had no exit strategy for Iraq - and in all likelihood that most likely did a cause a resurgence in Iraqi citizens aligning themselves with Al Qaida and other terrorist organizations (I contribute these alliances to be a last resort).
 

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Pat Ford, Chair of RI Libertarian Party

1. Who do you think won?

The winners? Third Party Candidates like Stein, Johnson, whose focus is on the issues, which represents the essence of their campaign.

2. Why do you think the other candidate lost?

The losers were the American people. We were treated to an extended “conversation” about government’s ability to create jobs -- total fiction. And stop & frisk's Constitutionality?  “A very against police judge”? Really?

3. What was the defining moment - what does it mean for the campaigns moving forward? 

Watching Trump begin to unravel towards the end, when his… veracity was challenged, was eerily reminiscent of a Law & Order episode, when Sam Waterston would start challenging the accused manhood on the stand … and out of sheer desperation, said perp would admit his guilt. Not a pretty picture, if the Secret Service is gonna use your name & POTUS in the same sentence.

 

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Jim Vincent, NAACP Providence 

1. Who do you think won?

Hillary Clinton clearly won the debate.  The bar for her was high and she exceeded expectations.. She was prepared, cool, calm, collected and answered all the questions with specifics.

2. Why do you think the other candidate lost?

Despite the bar being low for Donald Trump, he clearly underperformed.  Beteeen not answering the questions because of being woefully unprepared, interupting Hillarly all night, fighting with the moderator, and having a complete melt down over the final half hour like a marathober hitting the wall, Donald Trumps performance was completely underwhelming.

3. What was the defining moment - what does it mean for the campaigns moving forward? 

The defining moment for me is when Donald Trump said thst he had a better temperment than Hillary Clinton and the audience laughed.   Seldom have  we seen a candidate for president look and sound so erratic at a debate.
 

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Martha Stamp, GOP Activist

1. Who do you think won?

Trump. But he did get less time than Hillary.

2. Why do you think the other candidate lost?

I just don't trust her with all the rhetoric no action for 30 years.

3. What was the defining moment - what does it mean for the campaigns moving forward? 

You release your taxes when you release your 33,000 emails.
The biggest issue s the trust factor. I don't trust her but do trust Trump.
As for jobs, when she was senator she didn't too good in New York.
 

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Don Brand, Professor at Holy Cross

1. Who do you think won?

I would call Clinton the winner.

2. Why do you think the other candidate lost?

Trump was on the defensive more than Clinton (hardly anything on Clinton's email).

3. What was the defining moment - what does it mean for the campaigns moving forward? 

The turning point was the discussion on race. Trump's defense on birther issue was weak, and claiming he settled a racial discrimination suit with no admission of guilt is hardly proclaiming innocence. 
 

 
 

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