Monday night was a good one for Hillary Clinton. She played a sort of low risk, preventative defense in her first bout with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
With a few exceptions, she never went for Trump’s jugular with what political pundits call “zingers.”
Instead, she tried to look dismissive of him, at times even visibly joyful at his testiness. Testy Trump is what Clinton and her team wanted, and it’s exactly what they got.
Clinton also appealed to key voting blocs with an impassioned defense of a Latina beauty contestant whom Trump allegedly referred to as “Miss Piggy” and later “Miss Housekeeping”. This was her strongest moment and one of the few where she stepped out from an otherwise measured demeanor.
Whether he was even attempting to do so or not, Trump failed to look presidential.
Many observers had wondered if Trump might trot out a sort of Trump 2.0 at the first debate. After all, it was to be the first time many Americans would fully come to terms with the fact that one of these two individuals is soon to be elected the next leader of the free world.
Whether he was even attempting to do so or not, Trump failed to look presidential. He looked like the same Trump who verbally attacked his opponents in the Republican primaries and made reference to the implied size of his genitals in previous televised debates.
It’s wasn’t a knockout blow, as Trump was attentive and aggressive enough to prevent the debate from becoming a true embarrassment to his campaign. However, his clear and decisive defeat by Clinton before a massive television audience is likely to blunt the momentum he had going into it.
Clinton saw her lead from the summer depleted to a dead heat with Trump in recent weeks. Now, the polls will likely shift back in her direction. If she wins the remaining Presidential debates on October 9th and 19th, it’s hard to see how Trump could cobble together enough votes to win the election.
There is also a Vice Presidential debate between Clinton and Trump’s running mates Senator Tim Kaine and Governor Mike Pence on October 4th. History shows this debate is unlikely to significantly sway the electorate.
Put frankly, if the race is tied before the debates and one candidate decisively wins all three, they’re all but certain to win the election. This is rarely the case however.
President Barack Obama clearly lost the first presidential general election debate of 2012 to Republican Mitt Romney. He went on to rebound in later debates and win the election.
After Monday night, Trump will need to demonstrate a similar ability to bounce back from a sub-par performance if he wants to win.