Clinton-Trump debate offers no new insights but reveals stark contrast
Washington - The hype over the debate between Republican Party nominee for president Donald Trump and his Democratic Party rival Hillary Clinton reached World Cup Final dimensions, as did the viewership — an estimated 84 million Americans watched on television and that does not include those who streamed it online or listened on radio.
Despite the hype, the debate revealed little new about the candidates’ policies and positions. Both frequently relied on remarks used on the campaign trail over the past several months.
The debate focused principally on economic and domestic issues. Trump said the United States is “losing” to the rest of the world and pledged to stop outsourcing of American jobs and deal more aggressively with competitors, especially China. Clinton stressed the need to provide more and better jobs by making college more affordable for young Americans and closing the income gap by raising the minimum wage and raising taxes on the wealthiest.
On race relations, an always volatile subject in the United States, Trump called for a nationwide “stop-and-frisk” policy as adopted in New York for several years. Such a policy allows the police to stop anyone and search them for weapons — even if they display no threatening behaviour. African Americans and Latinos were overwhelmingly the targets of New York’s “stop-and-frisk”, which was declared unconstitutional by a judge and halted by the city’s current mayor. Clinton called for building stronger community-based ties between law enforcement agencies and citizens.
Clinton reminded viewers that Trump spearheaded the “birther” movement by suggesting that US President Barack Obama was not born in the United States and thus not eligible to be president, an argument that deeply offended African Americans. Trump, who publicly renounced this claim only recently, retorted that it was Clinton’s campaign that first investigated Obama’s birth records when she ran against him for the Democratic Party nomination in 2008.
The short amount of time devoted to foreign policy and national security issues was largely a restatement of previously announced positions. Clinton said her plan to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS) involved continued air strikes, “supporting our Arab and Kurdish partners” and “doing everything possible to take out their leadership”, mentioning ISIS’s self-professed leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by name and reminding viewers of her role in the operation that killed Osama bin Laden.
Clinton said the goal of her plan would be to “push ISIS out of Iraq and really squeeze them in Syria” before the end of her first year in office.
She also said that she would work closely with US technology companies to prevent ISIS and its operatives from using the internet to radicalise others.
Trump repeated his claim that he has a “secret plan” to “knock the hell out of ISIS” but that he does not want to reveal it to the enemy. He accused Clinton and Obama of pulling US forces out of Iraq in a way that “created a vacuum” that led to the creation of ISIS. He said US forces should have seized Iraq’s oil fields: “Had we taken the oil… ISIS would not have been able to form because the oil was their primary source of income.”
Domestic terrorism has been prominent in voters’ minds after recent lone-wolf attacks in New York, New Jersey and Minnesota. Clinton called for “an intelligence surge” and said she was proud of the work of law enforcement in New York and New Jersey who quickly identified and arrested the alleged perpetrator of these attacks.
She said Trump “insulted Muslims abroad, Muslims at home, when we need to be cooperating with Muslim nations and with the American Muslim community. They’re on the front lines.”
Curiously, Trump did not respond to this accusation, instead turning the topic to the Iran nuclear deal. He said that before the deal Iran was “choking on the sanctions” but that now “they’re going to be actually probably a major power at some point pretty soon”.
The issue of the Palestinians did not arise but the day before the debate each candidate had a private meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and issued the routine US presidential candidate’s unwavering support for Israel.
To the surprise of many, the issues of immigration from Mexico and Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States did not surface in the debate.
The post-debate consensus among analysts was that Clinton was the big winner. She maintained a calm demeanour and was able at times to unsettle Trump, such as when she questioned the true extent of his business success. Her strategy of keeping Trump on the defensive appeared to work. Quick-reaction polls after the debate revealed that a majority of viewers said Clinton had won.
Perhaps Trump’s best lines were the many times he reminded viewers of Clinton’s 30-year involvement in politics, portraying her as the ultimate “establishment candidate”, a message that could resonate among young voters and others who are frustrated by the gridlocked American political process.
Even many Republican strategists acknowledged that their candidate had not fared well. Trump accused the moderator of being unfair and said there was a problem with his microphone, although this was not apparent to anyone listening. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump’s closest supporters, suggested that Trump skip the next debate.
That is unlikely to happen. The next debate, scheduled for October 9th, will be in a town-hall format during which half of the questions will be posed directly by members of the audience. This format may be more conducive to Trump’s unconventional style.