Words Matter: A Recap of the First Presidential Debate


By Jillian Stacia

With a projected 100 million people  expected to tune in, last night’s presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is likely to be one of the most watched political event in recent history. This was a break or make moment for both candidates, and it seemed like people around the world were waiting to see who would come out on top.

As a Hillary supporter, I have to admit that I was a bit nervous before the debate. To put it lightly, Donald Trump is unsettling. You never know what you’re going to get. I was worried about which Donald would show up. I was worried about how Hillary’s substance over style persona would go over. I was worried about her standing up to his bullying without appearing defensive or overly aggressive. I was worried about the inevitable sexist comments and below the belt comments. I was just plain worried.

But as the debate went on, it became clear that Hillary was more than up for the task. She was poised. She was unflappable. She was presidential. And Trump was…not.

In case you missed it, here are some of the top moments from last night’s debate:

Lester Holt Takes Over For Hillary:

At one point in the debate, you had to wonder who Trump was fighting against. He certainly spent a lot of time criticizing moderator Lester Holt for his claims. Trump went into full on meltdown mode when Holt (correctly) stated that Trump had voted for the Iraq war.  Trump insisted that he did not – that this was a lie generated by Hillary and supported by the mainstream media. Despite the fact that Trump is on record for supporting the Iraq War, he refused to acknowledge this basic and provable fact. When Holt pressed him on the issue, Trump went into serious back-pedaling and angry talking, creating one of many Jim Halper-esque camera stares from Hillary.

Barack Obama’s Birth Certificate:

Trump refused to acknowledge his role in the birtherism conspiracy, claiming that Hillary Clinton’s campaign started the accusations back in 2008. Which is crazy, given the fact that Trump has repeatedly claimed that President Obama is not a natural born citizen. As Lester Holt pointed out, Trump has maintained these claims up until January of this year. Hillary used this opportunity to draw attention to Trump’s “long record of engaging in racist behavior.”

Bring Back Law & Order:

When the topic of race relations was broached, Hillary advocated for cooperation between police and communities. She called for addressing systemic racism and suggested training opportunities for our police force. I was impressed with her response about implicit bias, stating that “many of us in our great country jump to conclusions about each other. And, therefore, I think we need all of us to be asking hard questions.”

Trump, on the other hand, talked a lot about the need to bring back law and order (cue nonstop twitter jokes), and repeatedly defended the stop-and-frisk policy, which as Holt pointed out, was ruled unconstitutional in New York for discriminating against black and Hispanic men.

No Taxes for Trump:

Arguably one of the most telling moments of the debate came early on when Hillary pressed Donald Trump on his tax returns. This was one of Clinton’s most aggressive tactics. She suggested that Donald Trump is hiding his tax returns because hasn’t paid federal taxes, to which Trump replied: “that makes me smart.” Yes, a candidate for President just said that not paying taxes is “smart”.  For the record, every presidential nominee since Jimmy Carter has released tax returns to the public. I think it’s a safe bet to say that they’ve all paid taxes as well.

May The Best Temperament Win:

This debate was a tale of two Trumps. At the beginning, Trump was moderately composed. But as the debate progressed and Hillary began going on the offensive, he quickly became riled up and reverted back into the crazy Trump we’ve come to expect. He interrupted Hillary approximately 51 times. He talked over her. He continued to dance around issues and yell and skirt away from questions he couldn’t answer. He was heated and flustered.

Hillary, by contrast, was seemingly unflappable. Similar to her demeanor in the Benghazi hearings, Hillary was calm, cool, and collected. Which, although not as satisfying as watching her go into attack mode, was an effective strategy that matched her character and overall personality. She looked like the only sane choice next to Trump.

Top 5 Hillary Quotes:

“I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And, yes, I did. You know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president. And I think that’s a good thing.”

“Words matter when you run for president, and they matter when you are president.”

“This is a man who has calling women pigs, slobs and dogs and someone who has said pregnancy is an inconvenience to employers, who has said that women don’t deserve equal pay unless they do as good a job as men.”

“Well Donald, I know you live in your own reality…”

“As soon as he travels to 112 countries and negotiates a peace deal, a cease fire, a release of dissidents, an opening of new opportunities in nations around the world, or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina.”

Final thoughts:

This debate did a great job of showing the candidates’ true colors. We saw how they handle pressure. We saw how they communicate ideas. We heard them articulate their beliefs and values. We were able to evaluate their character and their trustworthiness.

I was proud of the way Hillary Clinton handled the gravity of tonight’s debate. I thought it was a true testament to her character, her poise, and ultimately, her diplomacy. Trump, on the other hand, proved once again that he is easily rattled and quick to judge. His strategy seems to be that if he talks loudly enough and makes enough derogatory statements, he can somehow convince the us that he is capable of holding the most important office in the world. I think he is underestimating the intelligence of the American people.

The next debate will be between vice presidential candidates Mike Pence and Tim Kaine on October 4th.

Jillian is part of the Contributing Writer Network at Thirty On Tap. To apply to become a Contributing Writer, please click HERE.

{photo courtesy of CBS News}