The first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is in the books, and while the liberal media and their liberal focus groups are liberally saying that the (slightly more) liberal candidate won, both candidates had their moments.
Here’s my list of the seven most notable things from the first presidential debate.
1. Trump’s spontaneous utterances about business. When Clinton slammed Trump for rooting for the housing crisis because he would make money if the market collapsed, Trump not only didn’t deny the accusation, he embraced it! “That’s called business, by the way,” Trump told Clinton in one of many interruptions. But for plenty of people — including thousands right here in Nevada — that kind of business may have cost them their home, or left them underwater in their mortgage to this day.
After Trump lectured Clinton again on business, saying “It’s about time this country had somebody running it who knows something about money,” Clinton mentioned his repeated bankruptcies. “Four times we used the laws that we there,” Trump said. “If you want to change the laws, change the laws. But I take advantage of the laws of the nation.” Clinton had already noted there were actual people on the other side of those bankruptcy cases who were taken advantage of, too.
And perhaps most oddly, when Clinton mentioned Trump settling a racial discrimination claim with the Justice Department in which it was alleged that minorities were not being given leases in his buildings, Trump didn’t deny it. He didn’t defend himself at all. Instead he said, “I settled that lawsuit with no admission of guilt,” and noted that other companies were sued for the same thing around the same time.
For the record, settling a lawsuit with no admission of guilt is a far cry from saying nothing illegal occurred.
2. Trump’s taxes. Moderator Lester Holt predictably asked Trump about his unreleased taxes. Trump replied with his traditional line — he’ll be glad to release them as soon as the IRS completes its “routine audit” of his filings. But an audit is no barrier to releasing taxes, as Trump himself admitted a few moments later, when he taunted Clinton by saying he’ll release his taxes — against legal advice! — if Clinton will release the 30,000 emails deleted from her personal server.
Good one! Only one thing: It admits that Trump’s self-imposed secrecy over his taxes is a choice, not a legal requirement. And while Clinton wildly speculated as to the reasons why (his income, his charitable giving, the potential that he’s paid nothing in taxes), the fact is, nothing is preventing Trump from releasing his taxes to the public, as all candidates traditionally have. “There’s something he’s hiding. We’ll keep guessing,” Clinton said. (By the way, he had another spontaneous utterance, telling Clinton that, if he had paid no federal income taxes, it would prove he was “smart”.)
3. Clinton’s bad calls. Trump scored some points when he criticized Clinton over the Iraq War and the management of the occupation and withdrawal. Trump claimed that $6 trillion had been spent on a Middle East war and occupation that should never have been started in the first place (and for which Clinton voted), which is enough to rebuild crumbling American infrastructure two times over. (In fact, it may even be more than that; even Bernie Sanders’ infrastructure plan was only rated at $1 trillion in spending.) “We don’t have the money because it’s been squandered on some of your ideas,” Trump told Clinton.
Now, Clinton later pointed out that it was George W. Bush — not Barack Obama — who negotiated the agreement that triggered the American withdrawal from Iraq, and she noted the Iraqi government would not agree to a status of forces agreement that could have seen American troops remain who may have been assigned to combat ISIS. And a dispute continues over Trump’s exact position on the war (he insists he was against the invasion before it happened). But this is an area where Clinton is vulnerable and Trump could have pressed it even further than he did.
Ditto for a line Clinton deployed after Trump questioned her stamina. Clinton replied that if Trump traveled to 122 countries, negotiating trade deals and arms pacts, or sat in front of a congressional committee testifying 11 hours, “he can talk to me about stamina.” How did Trump not immediately reply, “I’d sure hope I never did anything so bad that a congressional committee would want to talk to me for 11 hours!”
4. Clinton’s good lines. Trump fell victim to a couple of Clinton’s pre-planned zingers. After he obliquely criticized her for “staying home” to do debate prep (not to mention recover from pneumonia) while he was on the road, Clinton wasn’t prepared to let it go. “I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And yes, I did,” Clinton said. “And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president. And I think that’s a good thing.”
And at the end of the debate, Clinton listed some of the nasty names Trump has used to refer to women, including pigs, slobs and dogs. She brought up a beauty pageant contestant who competed in one of Trump’s contests, whom he’d allegedly called “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping,” ostensibly due to her Hispanic heritage. “That woman has a name, Donald. It’s Alicia Machado, and she’s become a U.S. citizen and you can bet she’s going to vote.” And that vote is probably not going to be for Trump, Clinton didn’t need to add.
5. An amazing agreement. Clinton was the first to repeat that something has to be done about the epidemic of gun violence, including universal background checks and reducing the number of military-style rifles in the hands of civilians. Trump didn’t join in, until the question turned to whether someone on a terrorist watch list or the no-fly list should be able to buy a gun. Clinton said no, and Trump concurred, notwithstanding his endorsement from the National Rifle Association.
6. An amazing disagreement. Trump was asked about birtherism, the idea that President Obama was not born in the U.S. and should not have served as president. He took full credit for forcing Obama to release his (long-form) birth certificate in 2011, although the president had released his (short form) certificate in 2008. And he named names, blaming Clinton’s 2008 campaign for spreading the story. “I was the one who got him to produce the birth certificate,” Trump said.
But Holt pressed Trump on the question, asking him why he’d continued to question the president’s birthplace even long after the 2011 release. And Clinton labeled it a “racist birther lie” that was used to de-legitimize the nation’s first black president. Trump tried again to blame Clinton and her agents for the story (a campaign staffer was fired for sending an email about the story, and a Clinton associate known for spreading lies mentioned it to reporters). But Trump’s role in the controversy can’t be denied, and it’s a losing issue for him. Trump himself seemed to admit this by suggesting he was ready to move on to other issues.
7. Politics of race. Trump has visited some inner city areas in recent days, and used that experience to condemn Democrats in general. “African-Americans and Hispanics are living in hell because it’s so dangerous,” he said. Later, he added, “The African-American community has been let down by our politicians. They’ve been badly treated, used and abused by Democrats.”
There’s a legitimate conversation to be had as to whether Democrats have done enough to help advance minority communities, or whether their policies have helped or hurt over the years. (Welfare reform, anyone?) Sadly, that conversation was not be had. Instead, Trump advanced his idea that we should return to using a stop-and-frisk program that was halted in New York City by a judge who ruled it unconstitutional. Trump said it reduced the murder rate and made the city safer, and said it could help crime-ridden cites such as Chicago.
Clinton merely said she was disappointed that Trump portrayed life in the African-American community as so dire, prompting a loud, audible sigh from the businessman.