I’ll admit I didn’t watch the entire debate, missed the first half hour of it, which I’m told was Trump’s better segment. Still, I saw enough to offer up a few thoughts clearly and succinctly:
1. Hillary chose to use this first debate to toss everything she could think of at Trump by playing to her base. She had to as a way to try and gin up excitement and give her flagging campaign something her ardent supporters could get excited about. In that regard, I think she was successful.
2. Trump’s performance was somewhat (at least in my view) understated and somewhat subdued. I think he got a few good shots in, but left too many (again, my view) opportunities to really pound her on lying about her e-mails and Benghazi go by the boards. My guess he was trying to appeal to independents and undecideds, knowing he holds the enthusiasm advantage when it comes to his supporters. I’m not sure how successful he was at that.
3. Lester Holt was abysmal as a moderator, and this, I think, will in the end be what works in Trump’s favor. Most undecideds who tuned in were doing so to help make up their minds, and went in wanting to see a fair exchange of ideas. Holt was too combative with Trump the entire night, to the point where it often seemed like it was two against one. Hillary supporters and her flacks in the mainstream media might have approved of Holt’s performance, but I don’t think it will play well with undecideds.
4. All this being said, I think it boils down to the following: if you supported Hillary going in, nothing about this debate will change your mind. If you supported Trump going in, nothing about this debate will change your mind. If you’re undecided, is there anything Hillary Clinton could say, tonight or at any other time, that is going to your opinion of who and what she is that you didn’t know about her over the past thirty years?
And that’s the problem she’s facing this year. And not she, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Tim Kaine, or Elizabeth Warren are going to be able to change that.