At long last, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton took the stage Monday night for the first presidential debate of this election year. Trump said he has a better temperament to be president than Clinton, who he said has experience that is “bad experience.” Clinton, on the other hand, pressured Trump about releasing his tax returns—going so far as to suggest he may not have paid federal taxes—his support for the Iraq War, and his business practices.
We asked Alan Schroeder, professor of journalism and an expert on televised debates, how the candidates performed and whether the debate lived up to the hype.
In our pre-debate interview, you stated the key for Trump was to be taken seriously, given the unorthodox nature of his campaign, and the keys for Clinton were to enthuse an audience who might be bored with her and to handle the wild card that is Trump. Did they succeed on these points?
I thought he (Trump) did not comport himself in a way that added gravitas to his personality. I think he lost this by a mile. A lot was made in advance of the debate regarding preparation, and he was certainly unprepared. In contrast, Hillary was extremely prepared and scored points against him. He tried to score points on her being an insider and her releasing the emails. But he didn’t have a plan to execute that.
I think she (Clinton) did. She showed that she’s a fighter and was very aggressive with him but didn’t cross a line into rudeness or anything inappropriate. By showing some spirit and fight, I think that will help her with some people who were unenthusiastic. On the wild card, I think she found the right way to handle him. She hung back in the beginning to let him set the tone, then hit him on the birther issue and had him for the rest of the debate. For me, there was an obvious winner and loser.
What moments stood out to you?
I don’t think there were any moments that we’ll be talking about four years from now, but there were a few things that stood out. When she said ‘What, are you hiding something about the tax returns?,’ that was a good YouTube moment for her. And the part at the end about stamina, where she defended her record, stood out. For him, some of the moments will be more negative—the sighing, the body language, the facial expressions.
Did this debate live up to the hype?
I think it did, simply because it was fascinating. The time flew by. A lot of times you’re watching a debate and the time drags. This had a lot of energy and momentum all the way through. It was definitely worth watching. I can’t imagine most people tuning in were disappointed. And it was educational about the candidates. You see these human beings under pressure, and that’s valuable to see.