Hillary Clinton, the United States Democratic Party presidential candidate, prepared for Monday’s first presidential debate like a champion pugilist. There was no room for slacking. She was going toe to toe with an opponent known for lashing and steep in unconventional debating tactics.
Days before Monday’s night debate, words filtered in that she had decided to prepare for the debate by choosing to spar with someone who was going to mirror the brash and antagonistic approach of her opponent. There could not have been a better strategy. It worked and she scored a technical knockout.
Mrs. Clinton walked onto the stage with a smile that exuded more confidence than that of her opponent, Donald Trump, the Republican Party candidate, who appeared too self-aware of the enormity of the task at hand.
NBC’s Lester Holt, the moderator, began the debate by asking the candidates to talk about their plans of creating jobs. Mrs. Clinton, who spoke first, humanised her plans by making reference to her granddaughter’s birthday. She followed it up by explaining how she intended to raise minimum wage, and improve the working conditions of American families.
It was immediately easy to see the influence of the programme of her contender during the long-drawn Democratic Party primary election, Bernie Sanders, on her plans. She said her opponent’s plan of creating jobs will only benefit rich people and leave members of the middle class in the lurch. With reference to Mr Trump’s privileged background, she denounced his plans of cutting taxes for the rich so that they can create jobs. She described the plans as “Trumped Up, Trickle Down”.
She explained that she would build on the recent economic success of the Obama administration by making the rich pay more taxes.
Just like he had done throughout his campaign, Mr Trump, kicked off by talking about how Americans are losing jobs to Mexicans and Chinese. He repeated the word ‘Mexicans’ at least five times within the two minutes window he had to answer the question. Without stating how, he promised to stop China and Mexico from taking American jobs if elected president.
He said he was going to renegotiate the US trade deal with China and Mexico. Mr. Trump blamed politicians “like Hillary Clinton” for causing the job losses in Michigan. With the aim of pushing Mrs Clinton to the corner, he asked her achievement in job creation in the last 30 years she has been a politician.
She expertly avoided the curveball, saying during the tenure of her husband as president, lots of jobs were created and the economy did well.
At this stage, she appeared to be on the defensive, but managed to dodge jabs and hooks thrown at her. She looked too cool for comfort. But it was a ploy. It worked, Mr. Trump was caught napping several times. And she punished him with excellent one-liners.
“Donald I know you are living up your own reality,” she said, countering the points made by her opponent as inaccurate.
That statement clearly angered Mr Trump, who before now has managed to keep his outbursts on a leash. He became visibly angry and went on a wild attack, his voice now several decibels higher. But Mrs. Clinton’s smile remained unshaken.
On why he hasn’t released his tax details, Mr Trump said his tax returns were under audit and he would release them after the audit, against the wishes of his lawyers.
In order to rattle his opponent, he promised to release his tax returns if she agreed to release several volumes of emails found in her private server.
This definitely wasn’t going to look good for Mrs Clinton. Her use of a private email server, while she was Secretary of State, had prompted a Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI, investigation that barely exonerated her. The private email trailed her throughout the campaign like flies buzzing around the bleeding ears of an errant dog. She has been unable to shake the matter off.
But she managed to shake off the punch. She said she made a mistake of setting up a private server for her official email and that she would do things differently if given the chance again.
While pointing out Mr. Trump’s admiration of the Russian President Vladimir Putin, she blamed the recent hacking of emails on Russia. Mr. Trump replied by saying there was nothing that suggested that Russia was responsible for the hacking adding that it could have been done by the Chinese, or “somebody sitting on their bed who weighs 400 pound”. His comment on the body weight drew sighs of condemnation from the audience at the debate.
On race, Mr. Trump tried to pin Mrs. Clinton to the corner for reffering to blacks as super-predators during her original presidential bid in 2008.
He argued that in order to stamp out crime in black communities he would push for law and order. He then suggested that he would re-introduce the controversial stop-frisk, in crime-ridden cities like Chicago; in order to cut down the number of deaths and protect police officers. Mr. Holt reminded the Republican candidate that a court had ruled stop-and-frisk unconstitutional.
Conversely, Mrs. Clinton projected a reconciliatory approach. She talked about her plans to improve police-community relationship. She said she would increase background check instead of adopting the stop-and-frisk proposed by her rival. She advocated increased background checks and said she would make sure that those on terror watch lists are unable to buy guns.
“If you are unsafe to fly you should not be able to buy guns,” she said.
During an exchange between both candidates, Mrs. Clinton rebuked her opponent saying: “I think Donald just criticised me for preparing for this debate, you know what else I am prepared for? I prepare to be president.”
On the rise of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria, Mr. Trump blamed Mrs. Clinton and President Barack Obama for withdrawing U.S. soldiers from the region and creating a vacuum that allowed the group to flourish. He also added that had the U.S. government taken the oil from the region, ISIS wouldn’t have got the incentive to capture large swaths of land in the region.
In conclusion Mr. Trump aid Mrs. Clinton was unfit to be president because she lacked the stamina required for the job, perhaps a reference to questions about her health.
Mrs. Clinton countered the comment, saying she had the stamina to negotiate several deals as Secretary of State, plus she withstood 11 hours of congressional question on her use of private server for official emails. But Mr. Trump retorted by saying the experience she had were negative ones.
In all, Mr. Trump’s showing during the debate was true to form and predictable. He lashed out, he attacked and tried to throw his opponent off-balance but Mrs. Clinton came prepared.
With a smiling face, she delivered well-timed one-liners that visibly rattled her rival and at times she, the respected school teacher, seemed to be scolding her rival, the class bully.