By Luke Wathen
The first presidential debate, despite its hype and controversy, yielded a clear winner in Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump did not even begin to prepare for the discussion and it showed; Clinton was able to stay poised and confident while Trump scrambled to cover himself over past controversies.
The second debate was by no means a repeat of the first which produced an obvious winner. Neither Clinton nor Trump seemed able to take a winning edge over the other, despite the same hour and a half timeslot given to them during their last encounter.
It goes without saying that both candidates failed in the most recent debate but in order to find out why, their past strategies have to be taken into account.
Trump, through his combination of insults, buzz words and ability to boil down complicated issues into simple catchphrases, managed to pull the coveted GOP nomination from a pool of candidates that was tremendously overcrowded. While this strategy let him clench the nomination, it does little good in a one on one debate.
On the opposite end of the spectrum stands Clinton. No stranger to controversy, Clinton appeals to the masses with meticulously crafted speeches and talking points that are carefully designed as to not bring up scandals such as Benghazi and her private email server.
As a result, both candidates were out of their element in the town hall style forum that took place. Trump struggled to give actual answers, instead looking for any opportunity to attack his opponent, while Clinton had to delve into murky waters without the safety net of preparation; she did not know what would be asked and as such, could not anticipate how to respond.
The sheer amount of discomfort was palpable from the first few minutes of the debate. Even before the questions began, both candidates refused to shake each other’s hands upon entering, completely ignoring an age-old sign of civility.
When the questions actually did begin, civility completely went out the window. What followed for 90 minutes was a hodgepodge of name-calling, with Clinton accusing Trump of misogyny over recent revelation of comments he made about women to Trump going so far as to call Clinton “the devil.”
Even when the debate ended with the final audience question asking each candidate to name one positive thing about their opponent, passive-aggression was all too prevalent. Clinton complimented Trump’s children though not the candidate himself while Trump complimented Clinton’s perseverance and record of “never quitting” (though this may have been a subtle jab at her failure to secure the Democratic nomination in 2008).
If a winner has to be declared, by a slim margin I would give the victory to Trump. He offered an apology for his comments years prior, something he does not do often, and seemed a bit more personal in the town hall setting.
Clinton was clearly out of her element. Even without a script, her responses felt artificial and her temper flared more times than she would care to admit.
No matter who won, however, the performance between the two candidates was hardly presidential for either party. Let the night of Oct. 9, 2016 be known as the night that the partisan lines in American politics became deeper and civil discourse was dealt a near-fatal blow.