Trump’s Gaffes Characterize Wild First Debate

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump answers a question as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton listens during the presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Tuesday, Sep 27, 2016 at 8:51 am by Dan Prager

The first presidential debate is finally in the books, and it was certainly one to remember. Both Clinton and Trump came out swinging, hoping to impress the largest audience in debate history.  The two attacked and interrupted each other, making the most of their 90 minutes.

Trump started the debate well, answering a question on trade with confidence and poise. He broke the rules in interrupting Clinton, but in doing so he stunned her and made her look uncomfortable. After this, the night was characterized by a series of Trump gaffes. Clinton’s best moments were on the next question, when she attacked Trump for not releasing his tax returns. She laid out a list of reasons as to why he would do this, repeatedly needling him for possibly being “not as rich as he says he is,” and that he may not pay income tax. Trump replied by implying that he does not, in fact, pay income tax, saying he was “smart” not to.

Trump would later fight with moderator Lester Holt multiple times when Holt attempted to fact-check him. When Holt asserted that ‘stop and frisk’ policies were ruled unconstitutional in New York, Trump replied with “no, you’re wrong.” He would later not deny that he discriminated against minorities when renting apartments, and brushed off not paying his workers. Trump even asserted, once again, the false claim that he opposed the Iraq war, although Holt confronted him on this.

Despite having many opportunities to attack Trump for these gaffes, Clinton mostly let Trump’s comments slide. She was content to let Trump hurt himself, and tried, successfully, to keep the focus on him the entire night. However, she could have delivered multiple blows to Trump that would have solidified her status as the victor. The closest thing she had to a killing blow was calling birtherism a “racist lie,” although she did not refute Trump’s false claim that the Clinton campaign started it. Although she may have missed opportunities, she also kept the focus off of her scandals. There was one short question about her e-mails, which was answered quickly and then dropped.

The debate went well for Clinton, but not as well as she would have hoped. She was certainly the winner of this debate, as she stayed quiet and let Trump’s gaffes dominate the media coverage. However, to any voters who had not heard from either candidate before today, Trump seemed more calm and reserved than usual. He matched the incredibly low expectations set for him before the debate. While some of these moments may haunt him later in the campaign, he did not lose badly enough that he will lose support from his base.

Clinton solidified her base, and will probably see a very small bump in some state polls, but it is doubtful that her numbers will return to where they were a month ago. Trump most likely did not win many undecided voters tonight, but he likely did not lose them either. Overall, the debate will probably not be a game-changer like many thought it would. Despite some wild moments, it will likely not change very much, and will not be remembered as one of the great debates in history like some expected.