Hillary Clinton won the debate but will it matter?

You know you have lost the debate when Merriam Webster has to interject explaining your word “bigly”, and when the sniffling, the rambling, the incoherent sentences become the conversation about your performance.

This was, in essence, the Republican nominee Donald Trump’s night at the much anticipated first presidential debate that ended a short while ago at Hofestra university in New York. For 90 minutes, Hillary Clinton dominated in style and substance, managing to get under Trump’s skin while staying on message as he fumbled his attacks and descended into rhetorical disarray.

Clinton came prepared

The Trump team was bragging throughout last week that its candidate was out on the campaign trail while Clinton “stayed at home” and was preparing for the debate. The lack of preparedness from Trump was evident on the split screen, as the GOP nominee would make confused statements such as when telling Clinton (68) “No wonder you’ve been fighting ISIS your entire adult life.”

That catalyzed into Hillary’s strongest lines of the night, responding to an agitated and rambling Trump: “I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And, yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president. And I think that’s a good thing.”

For 90 minutes, Hillary Clinton dominated in style and substance, managing to get under Trump’s skin while staying on message as he fumbled his attacks and descended into rhetorical disarray

Joyce Karam

Clinton’s readiness was in maintaining a calm, at times cheerful and steady temperament, and by not getting dragged to the mudslinging over the ISIS, “birtherism” or other accusations from Trump. Even when the Republican nominee interrupted her over 28 times, Clinton kept to her message, and hammered Trump using his own words and personal attacks.

Clinton’s best attack of the night was in response to Trump’s accusation that she lacks the stamina. Her comeback by attacking his character and condescending demeanor to few women in the past, provided her a strong closing for the night. Trump looked surprised by Clinton bringing up the story of Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe who was taunted by Trump for gaining weight.

“He called her ‘Miss Housekeeping’ because she was Latina...And she has become a US citizen, and you can bet... she’s going to vote this November”, Clinton said in what surely had become a campaign ad. targeting women and Latino voters.

Will it matter?

While the debate by itself might not deliver the knockout blow for Hillary Clinton in a very polarized election year, Trump’s anemic performance and misstatements on issues related to race and foreign policy will hurt his chances in winning on November 8th.

Some of Trump’s responses did not even make sense. Such as attacking actress Rosie O’Donnell by saying “nobody feels sorry for her”, or promoting his Washington DC hotel, or inviting China to go into North Korea, or claiming a 400 lbs person “sitting on their bed” (and not Russia) might have hacked the DNC emails. These answers have raised key questions among focus groups about his qualifications for the job.

Yet, and given the deep divide in the US electorate and the deadlock in the polls between both candidates, this debate might move the undecided voters without flipping the race. Those who like Trump for his anti-trade positions and populist talk, will unlikely be affected with what his weak debate presence. It is the undecided voters (between 10 and 20 percent) that Clinton might be able to sway in this race, as well as stalling Trump’s momentum and energizing her base.

Clinton had more paths to the Presidency prior to the debate, and she only solidified this standing after. Trump will likely continue his populist message, in hopes of maintaining his bulk of support, but without necessarily expanding it.

After weeks of rumors about her health and stamina, Hillary Clinton made a strong comeback in New York, one that left Trump in the dust and could deal him a blowout if he doesn’t come prepared for their next TV date.

Joyce Karam is the Washington Bureau Chief for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam


Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:49 - GMT 06:49
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