No knockout punches landed in the much-hyped presidential debate Monday night between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.
But both candidates — albeit beyond the ability of moderator Lester Holt to control — got to appeal to their core supporters and maybe drag in a few undecided voters in the November presidential contest. That’s no small matter considering the record-high public distaste for Clinton and Trump. You won’t find many Americans who would jump at the opportunity to sit at a neighborhood bar and have a beer with either one of them.
The 90-minute debate at Hofstra University on Long Island wasn’t country club cordial between the first woman presidential nominee of a major political party and a billionaire businessman. Both candidates deserve credit for not throwing in the face of an estimated 100 million viewers the worst that their campaigns have brought out about the other. But neither delivered to voters policy information they’ll need to pick the best candidate.
Illegal immigration, Hispanics, Syrian refugees, Muslims — and building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border and having Mexico pay for it — normally are enough to provoke Trump. But Clinton brought none of that on stage, although she did get him revved up over insulting comments he has made about women.
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Also missing was Trump calling Clinton “crooked Hillary” and getting his supporters in Trump-friendly crowds to chant “lock her up.” Both Trump and Holt failed to bring up the controversial Clinton Foundation and the pay-to-play allegations that have dogged it over donations it has received in return for access to influential Washington, D.C., insiders — Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s real challenge during the debate was to show that he had the level-headed temperament to be president. He’d need it with world leaders and in touchy commander-in-chief military moments. Clinton appropriately raised concerns over Trump drawing the nation into war involving nuclear weapons.
Clinton’s baggage included her credibility and trustworthiness. Trump brought that up when Holt asked him why he wouldn’t make his tax returns public as other presidential candidates have done. Trump said he would do so, against the advice of his lawyers because he’s under audit, if Clinton were to release her 33,000 deleted emails. He was referring to the messages Clinton’s team deleted as non-work emails that were zapped when she was secretary of state.
Big, but not unexpected, differences surfaced between the two candidates over how best to further the U.S. economic recovery. When President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, he inherited a U.S. and global economy in the grips of the Great Recession. It officially began in December 2007 and didn’t end until June 2009.
Unemployment climbed from 5 percent in December 2007 to 10.1 percent by October 2009. Only in recent months has the jobless rate settled at 4.9 percent, and everyday Americans enjoyed their median household income rising 5.2 percent in 2015 to $56,516 — the first time since 2007.
Clinton said to keep the recovery going she would push to create clean-energy jobs, increase the minimum wage, promote equal pay for women, paid family leave, close corporate loopholes, support small businesses and working parents and increase taxes on the wealthy.
Trump, on the other hand, focused on traditional Republican tax cuts, getting rid of regulations and renegotiating trade deals to increase job growth and deter U.S. companies from moving plants overseas.
Clinton then used a line that’s sure to surface in the two remaining presidential debates: “Trumped-up, trickle down,” referring to Trump’s policies benefiting the wealthy, while driving up the debt and leaving middle- and working-class Americans adrift.
To keep from settling into the same jargon, the presidential debates should consider adding candidates from a third party.
Running as the Washington outsider, Trump assailed Clinton’s insider experience for 30 years of failure.
Clinton gave the most credible answers to questions on race, saying “implicit bias” involving African Americans is a challenge for law enforcement and all Americans. Clinton criticized Trump’s negative depiction of America’s black communities. On Obama’s birth certificate she slammed Trump for being behind the “racist lie.”
Trump sounded the theme of law, order, respect and endorsements he has received from police organizations.
Each candidate talked about the Islamic State, but no clear plan surfaced on defeating global terrorism. NATO was another concern Trump raised and member countries not contributing their fair share.
Because of the usual Trump debate rancor, a lot of policy discussion failed to surface, which Americans need for a clearer idea of whom to vote for. Let’s hope the candidates deliver in the upcoming debates Oct. 9 at Washington University in St. Louis and Oct. 19 at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.