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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Scoring the Debate: How Clinton Beat Trump Round-by-Round

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton shakes hands with moderator Lester Holt from NBC after the conclusion of the debate. (photo: Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton shakes hands with moderator Lester Holt from NBC after the conclusion of the debate. (photo: Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY)

By Los Angeles Times
27 September 16
   
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump went head-to-head for the first time. To help us through the first presidential debate, we enlisted the help of three of our political writers and columnists to act as judges. Each judge scored every round with a win, lose or draw and declared Hillary Clinton the winner.

Winner: Clinton. Read our judges' round-by-round analysis below:
Round 1
Cathleen Decker: Clinton
David Lauter: Clinton
Doyle McManus: Clinton
What the judges thought:
  • Decker: From the outset, Clinton wanted to get under Trump’s skin, and she seemed to with her remark about his business success starting with $14 million from his father, more than he has acknowledged. Trump recaptured some ground later with a sustained criticism of Clinton on trade. Clinton is mixing up her approaches and Trump is relying on the remarks he uses daily at events.

  • Lauter: “You have no plan.” Clinton: “I do … I have written a book about it.” That pretty much sums it up. Clinton has a book. It’s not terribly exciting, but she knows her policy. Trump started yelling early. Hard to see how he changed any minds.

  • McManus: Both candidates went on the offensive early. Clinton needled Trump — successfully. Trump was shouting by 15 minutes in. Trump landed some punches that will cheer his base, revisiting his charge that China is stealing American jobs and Clinton is proposing a huge tax increase. But Clinton won the first round — on temperament as well as substance.

Round 2
Cathleen Decker: Clinton
David Lauter: Clinton
Doyle McManus: Clinton
What the judges thought:
  • Decker: This was a feistier segment. Trump hit hard on the Federal Reserve being political, which seemed off point. He later tried to turn a question about his refusal to release tax returns into an accusation about Clinton’s 33,000 destroyed emails. That might have won the round for him but for his basic admission that he paid no federal income tax (“That makes me smart,” he said, when Clinton raised that question). And later he said he had refused to pay a worker his contracted fee because he didn’t do a great job, in Trump’s estimation. (The man is in the audience.) As with the first segment, Lester Holt had to ask Trump repeatedly to answer the question.

  • Lauter: When the debate focuses on why you haven’t released your tax returns, that’s not a plus. And Trump’s response to Clinton’s charge that he hadn’t paid taxes — “That makes me smart” — probably will show up in a Democratic ad soon.

  • McManus: Clinton stayed on the offensive, needling Trump about his businesses and their bankruptcies. “I take advantage of the laws of the nation” was Trump’s weak response. His nonpayment of taxes, too: “That makes me smart,” he said — a line he’ll regret. But Trump lands some punches, too, when he remembers to stay on message. When Clinton talks about taxes, Trump’s response is crisp: “Typical politician. All talk, no action. Sounds good, not gonna work.” If he can keep that up, he’ll gain ground.

Round 3
Cathleen Decker: Clinton
David Lauter: Clinton
Doyle McManus: Clinton
What the judges thought:
  • Decker: So far most of the debate time has been spent on turf negative to Trump: his refusal to release tax returns, and in this segment his accusation that President Obama was foreign-born and past Justice Department actions accusing his firm of discrimination in housing. That has put Trump on the defensive, and it doesn’t help that he has not yet come up with a sellable rationale for why he pushed the birther argument for so long.

  • Lauter: Round two focused on Trump’s taxes. This one focused on his advocacy of so-called birther conspiracy theories, allowing Clinton to hit him repeatedly for “racist behavior.” Trump started strong, talking about “law and order,” but the segment ended with him weakly on the defensive.

  • McManus: On race, Clinton again stayed on offense — and Trump’s defenses were weak, at best. On the birther issue, Clinton said: “He has a long record of engaging in racist behavior.” Has any debate included a line that tough? Trump acknowledged that he knew President Obama was born in Hawaii when the birth certificate was produced in 2011, but said he continued pressing the issue because “no one was asking.”

Round 4
Cathleen Decker: Clinton
David Lauter: Clinton
Doyle McManus: Clinton
What the judges thought:
  • Decker: Trump did get off a line here, about how the U.S. wasn’t sure that Russia cyber-invaded the Democratic National Committee’s emails, and that it could have been someone sitting on their bed weighing 400 pounds. But the majority of the segment was filled with Trump trying to blame Clinton and President Obama for the formation of ISIS and claiming he did not support the Iraq war. Except he did, as Lester Holt pointed out repeatedly. Again, bad turf for Trump to play on.

  • Lauter: For two weeks, Democrats have tried to draw the debate moderators into fact-checking Trump. So what does Trump do? Gets into an argument with the moderator about whether he had supported the Iraq war. His extended appeal to Sean Hannity as a character witness must have puzzled millions of listeners. From Trump’s standpoint, this is not going well.

  • McManus: Trump doubles down on his claim that he opposed the war in Iraq before it started. (Alas for Trump, he still forgot to say it in public, so he can’t prove it.) “I also have a much better temperament than she has,” he says, heatedly. Not a good sign when a candidate has to assert his temperament is steady. Foreign policy was always going to be Clinton’s strong point in a debate, and it was tonight.

Round 5
Cathleen Decker: Clinton
David Lauter: Clinton
Doyle McManus: Clinton
What the judges thought:
  • Decker: The question sequencing in this debate has not served Trump well. This segment began with more discussion about Iran, but segued into Trump’s assertion that Clinton didn’t have a “presidential look” and his previous insults towards women. He tried to change the subject to stamina, but both moderator Lester Holt and Clinton reminded him of past quotes. Trump has not been helped by living among his fervent backers; his comments don’t play as well in a bigger world.

  • Lauter: Trump’s insistence on criticizing Clinton’s “stamina” is a good example of a campaign living too much inside its own bubble. That line works at a rally of partisans. It’s a loser in a debate. It gave Clinton a chance to remind supporters of her record as secretary of State and then some of Trump’s least-flattering comments about women. At the end, Trump was left complaining that Clinton’s advertisements were “not nice.”

  • McManus: For all the skepticism directed at NBC’s Lester Holt, he asked tough, straightforward questions — and Trump’s past statements made it easy for him. In this segment, it was Trump’s charge that Clinton doesn’t have a “presidential look.” Trump tried to turn that into a question about Clinton’s stamina, but Clinton didn’t let him off the hook. “He’s called women pigs, slobs and dogs,” she said, echoing both Megyn Kelly and Carly Fiorina. Trump struggled back to his core theme by the end: “Hillary has experience, but it’s bad experience. She has had so many bad deals.” But it was too late; the most memorable moments were those that put Trump on the defensive.

Final thoughts
Cathleen Decker: Clinton
David Lauter: Clinton
Doyle McManus: Clinton
What the judges thought:
  • Decker: At one point, Donald Trump gently mocked Hillary Clinton for staying home during the run-up to the debate. The results showed why she did. Trump, while his authentic self, didn’t expand his explanations beyond his short riffs on the campaign trail. Clinton, better prepared, sought to both explain what she would do as president — giving people a positive agenda to consider — and dinged Trump incessantly. Trump, had he been better able, could have turned the tables back on her at several points (he didn’t go at her trustworthiness apart from one email gibe). But instead he interrupted her with words that admitted her claims were true. Politics is harder than it seems, and Trump found that out tonight.

  • Lauter: Four years ago, President Obama did a terrible job in his first debate because he refused to prepare seriously — a trap other incumbents have fallen into. Trump did the same. He boasted that he didn’t really need to prepare, and, like Obama, he paid for it. But remember that Obama bounced back. Trump’s supporters will stick with him, and that gives him a chance to fight another day.

  • McManus: In the end there really is only one Donald Trump. He tried to be a little more even and statesmanlike than usual tonight, but only a little; Hillary Clinton was able to get under his skin and throw him off stride. And Trump committed unforced errors: The video clip of the night may have been Trump smirking at Clinton’s charge that he didn’t pay any federal taxes, and responding: “That makes me smart.” When he remembered to focus on his core theme — that he represents change, and Clinton represents the past — he was effective; but those moments were few and far between. Fact-checkers will have a field day with Trump’s versions of history, but that’s often less important than which candidate appeared more sure-footed and in charge. On that measure, Clinton won; it wasn’t even close. Clinton wasn’t always brilliant. She went on at length about her many proposals, but she was unflappable — and, in the end, for many voters, probably likable enough.

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