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They started out civil enough. “Donald.” “Secretary Clinton. Is that OK? Good. I want you to be very happy?”
And, admit it, you thought: Is this going to be polite … boring?
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Nah. A good ol’ 2016-style brawl. Interruptions. Crowd clapping, gasping, when it had promised it would sit on its hands and keep its yaps shut. And the quick dispute of facts, which apparently now come in his and hers.
Debatemoji.com, yes, there’s a website measuring the emoji most tweeted in reference to each candidate, found the top of both candidates’ lists was a character laughing so hard it’s reduced to tears.
That’s how we think of our politics. If we didn’t laugh, we’d have to cry.
Trump, with a string of bad luck we can all relate to, showed up with a case of the sniffles.
Before the first half hour was over, of course, somebody created a Trump Sniff account on Twitter. There is no mercy.
Perhaps because of what appeared to be a runny nose, Trump went for the water glass early. That reminded the many critics lying in wait of how he’d ridiculed primary foe Marco Rubio for being such a fan of the water bottle.
Hillary threw one of the first volleys, in classic nerd-wonk fashion, by likening his supply-side economics tax policies to trickle down failures of the past that would “Trump up” money to the rich. Groan. And she repeated it.
Clinton talked about the promise of alternative energy to create new jobs — Trump likes to paint her as the enemy of coal miners everywhere — and said that the Republican had dismissed man-made climate change as a Chinese fable. He denied saying such a thing. Twitter swung back.
She found herself on the defensive much of the opening, critical half hour, with Trump tossing her the blame for violence overseas and economic problems at home. What, she said, you’re going to put all the world’s problems at my feet? Trump: Well, yeah.
For instance, Trump not only suggested she was responsible for the rise of the Islamic State, but said she’d been fighting it her “entire adult life.” ISIS is a little younger than that, but apparently he gave her credit for fighting it before it existed. Yes?
Two-thirds of the way through the debate, Trump was asked about his role in questioning whether Barack Obama was U.S.-born. In his telling, Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal peddled the rumor first to McClatchy Newspapers (owners of The Kansas City Star). James Asher, Washington bureau chief during the 2008 campaign, tells a similar story. Blumenthal tells a different version.
In telling his version of the Asher version, Trump noted that a “highly respected reporter” was sent to Kenya to check out whether there was any evidence that Obama was born there. That journalist, former Star reporter Shashank Bengali, was watching and tweeted at the weirdness of coming up in a presidential debate.
Will it matter? Can we be moved on these two candidates?
At FiveThirtyEight, Christie Aschwanden argued in a piece before the debate that it’s awfully to hard to change minds. The best you can do is wrap a prettier narrative around your promises than the opposition does. And facts matter less than a good story. “When the choice is an appealing fib versus an ugly truth,” she wrote, “it’s human nature to prefer the answer we wish were true.”
At the debate’s acrimonious end, Trump dominated the microphone in ways that the punditocracy thought didn’t serve him well. If Clinton seemed aloof and superior at times, he was defensive and seemingly flustered.
Lester Holt, the NBC anchor who moderated the debate, took heat on Twitter for appearing to sit out the conversation when he might have reined it, and for fact-checking Trump — particularly on whether the real estate man initially supported or opposed the invasion of Iraq.
Afterward, the analyses spilled in quickly.
“Trump filibustered and blustered and attacked Hillary from the left as well as the right,” wrote Dan McLaughlin at the conservative National Review. “Hillary went for the wonkish support and the prepared, canned answers, the low-hanging fruit on sexism, and the adult answers on foreign policy that sounded like George W. Bush but ignored the actual facts of the Obama years.”
Breitbart.com, much friendlier to Trump than The National Review, quickly posted “Five Times Lester Holt Shilled For Hillary Clinton At The First Debate” — on tax returns, birtherism, stop-and-frisk, “presidential look” and Iraq.
On the left, Salon instantly posted “Donald Trump’s biggest lies during the first presidential debate” — on tax returns, global warming and birtherism.
The Daily Kos posited: “Wherein someone tries to overcompensate. Someone named Trump.
“ ‘I have better judgment than she does, there's no question about that. I also have a much better temperament than she has, you know?’ ”
On CBS, Bob Schieffer said “Donald Trump came as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton came as Hillary Clinton.”
Twitter had many opinions.