Debates happened, in so far as you can call what was televised a “debate.” I think that heated argument would be a fairer characterization, but that might just be needlessly pedantic. Nothing especially surprising took place, that much is certain. While I live-tweeted my reactions to much of the proceedings, I thought I would take a minute to elaborate now, having had a day to process (and having watched it several more times).
In general, the atmosphere was something that I’m more used to seeing in news from foreign countries that are trying to obtain a first democratic election than those I’m used to from our own electoral process. It was painfully obvious that neither candidate either like or have any respect for the other. This resulted in a less satisfying debate for me; I haven’t taken the time to check the actual specific numbers (because, facts, right?), but it certainly felt as though less time was spent discussing legitimate policy than in debates I’ve watched over the last 20 or so years.
How did the candidates fare? I suspect that would depend entirely on who you support. Throughout the day Tuesday social media was filled with Trump supporters declaring his clear victory—strong leadership over Hillary’s smug, condescending insidership. At the exact same time, Hillary’s supporters were crowing over her obvious victory—calm, presidential behavior over dishonesty and erratic behavior.
For what it’s worth, it seems very much that Trump and his camp FEEL that they lost, since he immediately went on the war path claiming that the moderator was unfair, the mic might have been tampered with, and that Hillary was being mean. Folks don’t often make a series of disjointed excuses for their perceived successes.
From my perspective though, nobody really “won” in the classical sense. We did not learn anything new (or, really, anything at all) about Trump’s policies. The only policy that he even slightly intimated was that his plan for preventing company’s from exporting jobs by lowering corporate taxes…full stop, end of plan. Hillary shoved policy point after policy point into her responses, but none were especially new if you were even slightly familiar with her platform.
In the end, the folks that have been supporting Trump all along got more of the same: lack of substance, lack of coherence, tons of volume and bombast, and a dollop of misogyny—perhaps with a skosh less xenophobia and bigotry than we’re used to seeing, but not so little as to turn off his white supremacist base.
Likewise for Clinton’s supporters. As expected, they received an embattled statesperson who clearly tried to take the high road and failed miserably several times (especially in a particularly unpleasant exchange over NAFTA and a similar one over the TPP) while cramming an unusual number of policy details into an abbreviated time—perhaps more willing to take Trump’s flaws head-on than usual, but generally more of the same.
At the end of the debates, Clinton still leads by a bit over 10% according to FiveThirtyEight, and I don’t see them having much of an impact there. There exists a sharp divide along education lines, as Bloomberg reports that Clinton leads by 25 points among the college-educated while Trump leads by 10 points among those that are not (and he commands a 55 point lead among white men without a college degree). I suspect these debates are going to do nothing to change any of that.
The real question is, what will the impact be on the undecided voters and those that don’t often vote at all. If you are undecided or if you don’t often vote, this might be the election in which you most matter. Know that it is profoundly important that you get out and vote. The deadline for registration in Michigan is coming up soon—October 11! For instructions on registering, click here. If you don’t live in Michigan, Google can help you out. Just select your state and get your deadline and a link to instructions for registering!