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The People's Issues Came Second in the First Debate

By       Message Richard Eskow       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   No comments

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Reprinted from Campaign For America's Future

Clinton and Trump in first presidential debate
Clinton and Trump in first presidential debate
(Image by via Gage Skidmore, Flickr)
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This was undoubtedly the first presidential debate in history to include a mention of Rosie O'Donnell. Even grading on a curve -- something the press tends to do with Donald Trump -- the Republican fared poorly on Monday night. Democrat Hillary Clinton took him down on issue after issue, from his tax returns to his business practices.

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Unfortunately, that was not her most important mission. Clinton's fate rests on her ability to turn out key Democratic voters in large numbers, especially young people and minorities. In her zeal to defeat her opponent, which she clearly did, Clinton didn't do enough to inspire and motivate her base.

Trading Blows

The debate was largely a clash of personalities, rather than a clash of visions for the nation's future. Moderator Lester Holt asked some excellent questions, including a number we had hoped would be asked about the economy and racial justice. But at times it felt as if NORAD should deploy its Christmas Eve "Santa tracker" to find Holt, as the candidates railed for long stretches about whatever they wanted with no sign of his presence.

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Holt did step in at several key moments to fact-check Trump on the constitutionality of stop-and-frisk policing, his ability to release his tax returns, and his continued "birtherism" after Barack Obama's birth certificate had been released. In return, Trump telegraphed weakness when he complained to Holt about how he was being treated.

Trump was most effective in the early minutes of the debate, when he attacked Clinton for her past support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other harmful trade (really, intellectual property) treaties. While she now opposes the TPP, Trump pointed out that as Secretary of State Clinton called it a "gold standard" for such deals.

"Donald," Clinton said in a line that seemed pre-scripted, "I know you live in your own reality."

Clinton was not able to defend herself effectively on the trade issue, and instead went into an odd digression that conflated the 2008 financial crisis, tax policy, the long-term decline of the middle class and Trump's expressed desire to exploit the housing crisis.

"It's called business," Trump said to that last point.

Trump pressed Clinton effectively on President Obama's support for the TPP -- a line of attack she could have blunted much more effectively by promising to lobby against the deal if Obama introduces it during the lame-duck congressional session.

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From that moment on, Trump's best moments were behind him.

Yes, He's a Republican

Trump squandered an opportunity to talk about infrastructure investment, saying only, "Our airports are like from a Third World country. You land at LaGuardia, you land at Kennedy, you land at LAX, you land at Newark and you come in from Dubai and Qatar and you see these incredible -- you come in from China -- you see these incredible airports and you land... we become a Third World country."

True enough. But that's the symptom of a larger problem: the unwillingness of his own party to support infrastructure investment.

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Host of 'The Breakdown,' Writer, and Senior Fellow, Campaign for America's Future

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