HEMPSTEAD, NEW YORK — Donald Trump won the first presidential debate on Monday, with Hillary Clinton failing to land a decisive blow in what should have been an easy contest for the former secretary of state.
Clinton’s job was simple: give uncommitted voters a reason to support her, while showing Trump is unfit for office. She failed to do either. For Trump, a win is managing to talk for 45 minutes without his head imploding. He succeeded.
Watching Hillary, we felt none of the inspiration that was the hallmark of her two Democratic predecessors, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Trump’s economic message is that free trade has sent American jobs overseas, and we suspect this will resonate in battleground states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. Clinton’s answer: NAFTA and Bill Clinton were great for America. Clinton came to the debate prepared -- and for someone who thinks Trump is way out of his league -- we expected a stronger, more forceful reply from her.
Clinton’s debate strategy seemed to rely in part on goading her opponent into erupting in a way that would leave undecideds questioning his temperament. Yet in last night’s debate, we saw none of the inflammatory statements that has characterized his candidacy.
“I also have much better temperament than she does. I think my strongest asset, maybe by far, is my temperament. I have a winning temperament,” Trump claimed. This got a few laughs from Clinton supporters who don’t need convincing that Trump is not suited for office, but Clinton needed Trump to blow his top and he didn’t.
In the lead up to Monday’s debate, polls showed Clinton in the lead and Trump narrowing the gap. This debate was an opportunity to reverse that trend. Clinton failed to move the needle in her direction, and that makes her the loser.