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In a Clash of Styles, More Than Issues, Trump Exceeds Expectations in the First Debate (Forbes.com) September 27, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.

Who won the first presidential debate? Those who previously supported Hillary Clinton will say she won, those who favored Donald Trump will claim he was victorious. So in that sense, neither candidate clearly defeated the other in the debate.

But viewed from another perspective, Trump was the winner by exceeding expectations. Just as a young Senator John Kennedy received a boost by standing toe to toe against the more experienced Vice President Richard Nixon in the first televised presidential debate in 1960, Donald Trump, a businessman with no political experience, did stand on an equal footing with the experienced politician Hillary Clinton. While Clinton met expectations by giving detailed policy positions in her answers, Trump exceeded them by not being outrageous (an admittedly low bar, but one people were concerned about) and by pressing his view that a strong leader, who is not bogged down in failed politics and policies, can make America great again.

On the issues, the two candidates were like two trains passing in the night. In response to the moderator’s questions, Clinton rattled off her several detailed policy positions in various areas. Her constant refrain was “I’ve called for this” or “I’ve planned for that.” Again, those who like Clinton got just what they expected: articulate policy responses to every subject. But she had a tendency to engage in Washington-speak (“implicit bias” or “trickle-down economics”) and, if you’re not a policy wonk it became a bit tedious.

Trump continued to come at issues from another planet: if she was from Venus, he was clearly from Mars. Trump acknowledged that Clinton had a lot of experience, but called it out as “bad experience,” the “wrong kind of experience.” He repeatedly argued that it was “politicians like Secretary Clinton” who have let us down. Trump argued that politicians talk and talk, but then get in office and say I’ll see you again in four years (a point made well in E.J. Dionne’s classic book Why Americans Hate Politics).

The two candidates proceeded to argue from their two different planets throughout the evening. On ISIS, Clinton said “I have a plan to defeat ISIS.” Trump said, well you and President Obama helped create ISIS by leaving a vacuum in Iraq, so I don’t think so. On race in the cities, Clinton said there is “implicit bias” in the criminal justice system, whereas Trump argued that we needed to begin with “law and order” and restoring control in our violent cities. On jobs, Trump’s approach is to stop jobs from leaving the country and incentivize businesses to create jobs, whereas Clinton prefers policies to help the middle class more directly (calling Trump’s approach “Trumped up trickle down.”)

If you were waiting for Trump to do something crazy, it didn’t really happen. It may be the first time a presidential candidate cited a conversation with Howard Stern in a debate. Referring to his support from retired admirals and generals, Trump said he would take their endorsements over those from “political hacks” any day. He said that we’re a “third-world country” in our infrastructure. While those statements may not fit the classic presidential debate style, that’s pretty mild stuff for Trump.

It was actually a difficult debate to watch. Lester Holt, as the moderator, laid back a bit and allowed the candidates to talk directly with each other, but each candidate had a tendency to interrupt and talk over the other, especially Trump. And when the two candidates come from different planets in their approach to America and the presidency, there isn’t the kind of direct policy clash one might expect.

Still, in the end, these debates are very much about beating expectations. Clinton met expectations, but Trump exceeded his and, in that sense, this first debate helped Trump more than Clinton.

To read the column at Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2016/09/26/in-a-clash-of-styles-more-than-issues-trump-exceeded-expectations-in-the-first-debate/#1ced8d1446fd

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