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First 2016 Presidential Debate Preview

Like Noah Millman [1], I don’t expect to learn anything from tonight’s presidential debate. For those of us that have followed the campaign from the beginning, both of these candidates are thoroughly familiar, and even for people that haven’t paid close attention to the election both Clinton and Trump are very well-known (and not coincidentally deeply disliked by most). There will be no meaningful revelations about either candidate, nor are many people going to be swayed by what they see and hear. It will mostly be an exercise in avoiding self-inflicted wounds, and the one that comes out with fewer unforced errors will likely be deemed the winner.

Trump has never been interested in outlining policy proposals in any detail during debates, and he isn’t going to start now. That gives him a slight advantage in that most voters don’t especially care about policy specifics, and tend not to react well to candidates that are absorbed with them. If there is one thing Trump knows about, it is how to perform on television, so I don’t know that it matters so much that this will be the first head-to-head debate he has done as a candidate. Clinton has considerably more experience with these formats from both her Senate and presidential campaigns, but she has never faced off against an opponent quite as shameless and unconventional as Trump. Clinton probably has the edge in being able to give the canned, scripted answers that these events demand. Trump’s willingness to say almost anything means that he may surprise her with an attack or proposal that she isn’t anticipating.

The debate “topics” [2] that have been announced in advance are very vague, but I assume “securing America” will be the section of the debate related to foreign policy and national security. Because of her tenure at the State Department, this is the section during which Clinton will be expected to dominate Trump, who knows little and understands even less about the rest of the world. However, because of her record of poor judgment on foreign policy, especially as it relates to military intervention, Clinton will be vulnerable to attacks that Trump won’t hesitate to make regarding the Iraq and Libyan wars. Trump may be a lousy messenger for these criticisms, but they are attacks that she was mostly spared during the primaries and for that reason she hasn’t had much practice in defending against them. This section of the debate seems likely to serve as a microcosm of the election as a whole: Clinton has experience but also has lousy judgment, while Trump is a shameless opportunist who doesn’t know much except for how to take advantage of his opponents’ poor records.

P.S. I will be covering the debate tonight on Twitter (@DanielLarison [3]). The debate begins at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

11 Comments (Open | Close)

11 Comments To "First 2016 Presidential Debate Preview"

#1 Comment By sglover On September 26, 2016 @ 5:03 pm

I assume that in the sterling tradition of televised presidential “debates”, the thing will turn on wardrobes, grooming, and who’s taller. Natural terrain for a TeeVee huckster like Trump.

#2 Comment By Jaw X 2 On September 26, 2016 @ 5:09 pm

I agree. I hope he hits her hard on foreign policy. Libya, Yemen, and Syria were avoidable disasters. They happened on her watch, with her connivance and support.

One of the strongest connections he can make is between her needless wars and the flood of refugees and migrants that are destabilizing Europe and causing terror attacks. And of course the cost of those wars – they reportedly now account for some 6 trillion of our unprecedented 19 trillion dollar Federal deficit.

They brought us nothing but death, tens of thousands of casualties, and ongoing terror attacks, the fruit of stupid, needless policies that made millions in the region hate us.

#3 Comment By Otto Zone On September 26, 2016 @ 10:19 pm

I can’t believe Trump just missed the chance to flog HRC with her email mess – the one the Director of the FBI called “reckless” and “extremely irresponsibility”. She had just spent several minutes speaking very piously about the need for cybersecurity …

Very odd – Sanders did the same thing. It’s as though their minds go blank.

As for me, no earnest lectures from Hillary Clinton (of all people) about cybersecurity, thanks.

Someone with that demonstrated level of recklessness, entitlement, and raw technological ignorance should never be permitted anywhere near the Oval Office.

#4 Comment By Kent On September 26, 2016 @ 10:31 pm

What the heck people? Clinton is a generic Democrat – good and bad in equal measure. Trump is a con artist. The fact that he’s the GOP standard bearer is shocking.

#5 Comment By Sock Puppet? On September 26, 2016 @ 10:37 pm

Hillary was speaking in an odd, overly-deliberate style, as though she was repeating, with some difficulty, what someone else was saying.

#6 Comment By the tally On September 26, 2016 @ 10:47 pm

It’s fascinating to watch Clinton when she’s lying. I think William Safire was right – it’s “congenital”.

She said Trump “started his political career” with the “racist lie” of “birtherism”. Unless she’s got dementia or a totally ignorant staff, the former Senator from New York knows Trump first ran for President in 2000, well before Obama came to the nation’s attention.

Then again, Clinton’s blatant lies don’t count with the media. Only Trump’s.

#7 Comment By VikingLS On September 26, 2016 @ 11:47 pm


What the heck yourself, you just made two assertions with no supporting arguments. You have no business being shocked.

#8 Comment By sglover On September 27, 2016 @ 12:38 am

Were I a Trump supporter, I think I’d be dismayed at how poorly he played his hand. There are miles of weak points in Clinton’s record, but whenever Trump tried to attack he wandered off into his own verbal marshlands.

But I can’t begin to guess who “won”. Even more than usual for these stupid “presidential debates”, nobody’s watching to find out what Clinton and Trump say. Instead, they’re watching for little episodes that they think everybody else will respond to. It’s all a weird meta-performance.

#9 Comment By EliteCommInc. On September 27, 2016 @ 5:47 am

I interrupted my hiatus from the debate only to her a discussion about the the class action suit over real estate practices I guess during the late 70’s or 80’s.

I think my original choice to avoid it was correct. If that is the game, it’s a yawn. The entire country’s real estate practices came under scrutiny. If the best that can be done is indict Mr. Trump on policies he inherited and reflected what was a national practiced since the end of slavery – good grief.

a subsequent brief read on the debate just reinforced my doubts that Mr. Trump should have subjected himself to media’s nondebates in the first place.

Tax returns — a debate staple and as usual revealing about leadership, not even a minor scandal.

Can Mr. Trump handle the pressure of a campaigning – sure, already demonstrated. Does Mr Trump have plans to advocate a policy of housing segregation — doubtful, unlikely and . . . no.

#10 Comment By EliteCommInc. On September 27, 2016 @ 11:22 am

“However, because of her record of poor judgment on foreign policy, especially as it relates to military intervention, Clinton will be vulnerable to attacks that Trump won’t hesitate to make regarding the Iraq and Libyan wars. ”

Odd, that the experienced Mr. Lester Holt didn’t mention these policy issues actively in progress.

As i say, Mr. trump is being used to sell advertising for the networks not have an dialectical discussion on issues.

#11 Comment By Quarter Drawn On September 27, 2016 @ 11:51 pm

” the “racist lie” of “birtherism”.”

Her campaign was pretty fond of that “racist lie” back in 2008. Fond enough to send “senior campaign advisor” Sid Blumenthal and others to talk it up to the press.

My how times change! Now that her hopes are handcuffed to Obama’s black urban base it is imperative that Trump own it and that she have nothing to do with it. And so it shall be …