First Presidential Debate didn’t move the needle

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Media outlets and political pundits billed Monday night’s first Presidential Debate between Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and Republican nominee, Donald Trump, as the biggest debate since Reagan/Carter in 1980. Indeed, regardless of which station you gravitated towards over the last week, Monday’s debate received the same coverage that a foreign or domestic dignitary’s untimely passing would receive. For those anticipating such a showdown, which I referenced on Facebook on Monday morning as the political “Rumble in the Jungle”, you were most likely terribly disappointed.

Rather than giving you the negatives first, I’ll go ahead and start with the positives.

Many wondered ahead of the initiatory debate from Hofstra University, in Hempstead, New York, which Donald Trump would, in the infamous lyrics of rapper Eminem’s hit song “The Real Slim Shady”, stand up. Throughout the GOP primary process, an oft unhinged Trump referred to his opposition as “Lyin Ted”, “Little Marco”, mocked Bush as being low energy, and insinuated Carly Fiorina had a less than flattering exterior. It seemed fair that heading into a 1-on-1 against a female opponent, in the first non-interrupted debate that I personally can EVER recall witnessing, such a narrative would rear it’s ugly head.

For the most part, Mr. Trump managed to behave himself; he didn’t insult Mrs. Clinton, didn’t hold her accountable for the email scandal (a matter which any intellectually honest Clinton supporter was breathing a sigh of relief over), and by and large did little to harm his standing in the race. One of Trump’s best moments of the debate was when he claimed that Clinton’s private email server was more than a mistake, which is entirely accurate and important when you consider the risks that she put national security concerns under, by not keeping her emails on a secured server.

For Secretary Clinton’s part, and this is really, really stretching things, the greatest positive I can come up with is the fact that she didn’t cough, didn’t faint, stayed on her toes throughout, and was mostly able to stay on message. I say this partially tongue-in-cheek, and partly in all seriousness – 2 of her most public appearances in the last 3 weeks have shown her fainting, being whisked away from the 9/11 memorial site on September 11th, and facing a throng of reporters, seemingly either exhausted, drugged up, or otherwise. Oh, and another television appearance showed her vocally agitated at a reporter’s question, where she appeared equally as unhinged as Mr. Trump’s portfolio of audio and video clips would likewise corroborate.

Now, why would I suggest that this debate would do little, if anything to truly move the needle? Well, heading into this heavyweight showdown, Trump and Clinton were pretty much deadlocked in the polls – nationally, Trump was trailing by 1.5% according to the RCP average in a 4-way matchup factoring in Johnson and Stein, and by 2.1% in head-to-head matchups. Even with the swing states of Florida, North Carolina, Colorado,  Pennsylvania and Maine, you’d find it considerably easier to thread a needle, than to place any of these states in one candidate’s corner or the other, beyond a shadow of a doubt.

If honesty and trustworthiness are important factors to you as a voter, both candidates probably scored an F with you on Monday night. Mrs. Clinton held Mr. Trump accountable for his support of the war in Iraq, to which he flat out denied such was the case. According to this PolitiFact check on Trump’s claim, in fact he was in favor of the invasion. It seems that when public opinion turned against the war, is when he joined Mrs. Clinton in opposing it ( a similar case arose during a primary debate, when Governor Bush of Florida claimed that Trump tried to get a casino built in Florida, a claim which Trump flatly denied. This article, from September 23rd, proves otherwise.) On the issue of Mr. Trump’s tax returns, while he gave a stellar response by challenging Clinton to reveal her emails, and in return he would reveal his tax returns, she pushed back, which played into her hands, by placing a shadow of doubt about his transparency. This was clearly a missed opportunity for Donald.

While the issue of foreign policy did come up, what did NOT come up, much to my chagrin, was the Clinton Foundation, and the potential, even speculated pay-to-play setup involved. Much fodder has floated around regarding where much of the foundation’s donations have come from, who they came from, what was granted in return, and how all these transactions could have impacted State Department activities, while Mrs. Clinton was Secretary of State. Could she be vulnerable to blackmail by foreign leaders or organizations, in situations where her decisions as President come into play? Not a single mention by Mr. Trump. NONE.

Sure there was some discussion about economic policy, where Clinton emphasized the need to invest in infrastructure to create jobs, and attacked Trump’s plan by claiming that independent entities project it would actually COST jobs, while hers would create millions. And sure, Trump had a good moment when he took a jab at Solyndra, on the topic of alternative sources of energy. However, the majority of the time was devoted to race relations (where nothing was actually resolved), whether each was fit to be President, playing the gender card, and a trading of jabs during which the audience was left watching a tennis match.

The moderator for the evening, Lester Holt, did a less than adequate job of keeping the candidates on message, holding the candidates accountable for untruths, and preventing each from monopolizing the time. If you were a Trump supporter prior to Monday, you’re still a Trump supporter. If you were a Clinton supporter, you’re still a Clinton supporter.

If you’re like me, you know who the real winner of the night was – Gary Johnson, Libertarian candidate for President. The one guy that avoided 90 minutes of nothingness.

The qualification to be a part of the next debate, remains the same – garnering at least 15 percent support in at least 3 credible polls. If 15 percent of the voters in America don’t tell pollsters that they support Mr. Johnson, get ready for another joke of a debate.

At least in the 1st debate of the 2012 General Election, Governor Romney laid into President Obama and was the clear victor. Unless Trump wants to prove those that believe he’s in this thing to help Clinton win wrong, he better step it up next time. Because for now, I’d be SHOCKED if the polls post-debate show even the slightest movement of the needle, one way or the other.

On the plus side, this was the closest thing to a true debate that I’ve ever seen, where both candidates were able to have multiple exchanges, uninterrupted. Sad that it took until the LITERAL end of this to find one of the biggest positives.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at [email protected]