GREENSBORO – Called the ‘Superbowl of Politics’ by numerous commentators, last week’s debate between presidential front-runners Hillary Clinton (D) and Donald Trump (R) began the final phase of the campaign trail, with both candidates using the stage to illustrate their different approaches to both the campaign and the policies that they would enact should they become elected.
Held at New York’s Hofstra University, the debate represented a platform for both candidates to take their messages to an audience numbering in the tens of millions, with many voters still undecided in what has become a neck-and-neck race.
Common talking points included racial unity and relations, American jobs, gun violence, foreign policy, and prosperity, among others.
For Clinton it was a chance to dispel doubts about her trustworthiness; for Trump, an opportunity to reach out to voters who were looking for an alternative to Clinton but were disenchanted by Trump’s many controversies on matters ranging from race relations to his connections to Russian leader Vladmir Putin.
Clinton’s approach eschewed broad vision – which to many, including her supporters, translates to a “failure to inspire” – in favor of a technocrat’s focus on nuts-and-bolts policies regarding family leave and affordable college.
“I want us to invest in you,” said Clinton in her opening statement, responding to moderator Lester Holt’s question. “I want us to invest in your future. That means jobs in infrastructure, in advanced manufacturing, innovation and technology, clean, renewable energy, and small business, because most of the new jobs will come from small business. We also have to make the economy fairer. That starts with raising the national minimum wage and also guarantee, finally, equal pay for women’s work.”
Trump adhered to a similar approach in the beginning, making appeals to dispossessed blue collar voters that have been the backbone of his campaign’s economic message since the beginning.
“Our jobs are fleeing the country,” said Trump, responding to the same question. “They’re going to Mexico. They’re going to many other countries. You look at what China is doing to our country in terms of making our product. They’re devaluing their currency, and there’s nobody in our government to fight them.”
The two candidates sparred on a number of issues, including foreign policy and law enforcement.
Fact checkers during the debate found doubt in many of Trump’s remarks, including his claim that he didn’t support the invasion of Iraq (he did); that Clinton had been “fighting ISIS her entire life,” placing the beginning of the organization sometime in the late 1960s (it was formed in 2006); that the use of stop-and-frisk policies by police were constitutional (they’re not); and that Clinton’s 2008 campaign started the ‘birther’ movement (they didn’t).
Clinton also received hits from fact checkers for her denial of endorsing the Trans-Pacific Partnership as the “gold standard” of trade deals (she did).
Clinton also criticized Trump’s tax plan, saying that it would increase the deficit and cost jobs.
“Independent experts have looked at what I’ve proposed and looked at what Donald’s proposed,” Clinton said, “and basically they’ve said this, that if his tax plan, which would blow up the debt by over $5 trillion and would in some instances disadvantage middle-class families compared to the wealthy, were to go into effect, we would lose 3.5 million jobs and maybe have another recession.”
This led into a discussion of climate change, with Clinton challenging Trump’s claims that it doesn’t exist.
“Some country is going to be the clean- energy superpower of the 21st century,” said Clinton. “Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I think it’s real.”
“I did not. I did not. I do not say that,” replied Trump (a 2012 Trump tweet did).
“I think science is real,” retorted Clinton.
Early post-debate polls had Clinton winning the debate 62 percent to 27 percent (CNN), 49 percent to 26 percent (Politico/Morning Consult) and 48 percent to 22 percent (Echelon Insights).
In the week since his much-criticized debate performance against Democrat Hillary Clinton, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has continued to court controversy with comments about the weight of a former Miss Universe and threats to bring up decades-old allegations about former President Bill Clinton’s sexual improprieties, even as post-debate polls show Clinton pulling ahead in must-win states such as Colorado and Pennsylvania.
The next presidential debate is scheduled for October 9, and will be held at Washington University in St. Louis.