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  • Ashok Dhillon

The First Clinton Trump Debate (#15)


Well it finally happened. The first Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, US Presidential Candidates debate. Apparently the most watched event on television, with an estimated 100 Million viewers tuning in.

The debate itself went as expected.

Clinton, given her long years in public service and her experience, was well prepared, far more knowledgeable about all issues, detailed in policy and well rehearsed.

Trump, given his severe lack of experience in public service, or such debates, was not well prepared, nor knowledgeable or detailed in policy matters, and given his seeming abhorrence for detailed preparations, did what Trump usually does, he ‘winged it’.

It should have been a massacre. But even though Clinton scored some great points and had Trump quite uncomfortable at times, she didn’t have the killer instinct to destroy him in public with the wide open opportunities that he presented with his ill-preparedness and his distaste for thinking his proposed public policies through.

For instance, in the early part of the debate, on the topic of bringing prosperity to America, Trump attacked Clinton, Obama and the Democrats on losing jobs to countries such as Mexico and China, and others, and thereby devastating States such as Michigan and Ohio. And he followed up by stating that it was all her fault as she had been in power all those years when it was happening. It was a powerful image of ‘more of the same’ if she came to power, that his supporters love to hear, and which might swing some undecided voters, if allowed to stand. Clinton countered fairly well by articulating a far more detailed economic plan, and emphasized the support she would give to small business and the middle class that are the backbone of the economy. That answer, far more detailed than can be articulated here, was good, well-prepared policy answer, but not nearly effective enough to really negate the simple but negative image he had marked her with.

What she needed to do was to attack his vague proposals of bringing jobs back, by aggressively questioning his simplistic ideas that if he dropped tax rates and made it easier through looser regulations, then companies that had left or were leaving “in the thousands” would come flocking back with all their jobs, and all their ‘offshore’ parked Trillions in profits.

She should have aggressively pointed out that companies have set-up offshore manufacturing and service operations, in Mexico, China etc. because of far cheaper costs - including raw materials, proximity to markets in Asia and South America, management and employee salaries, employee benefits, transaction, filing, laxer environmental regulations costs - that no amount tax breaks in America could possibly match (pennies versus dollars difference).

And on the subject of repatriating the substantial profits American companies generate through such cost savings, those will stay offshore too, because, again, tax breaks at home from 30% some odd, to 15% (Trump’s proposal) cannot match ultra low to ‘zero tax’ regimes.

Clinton needed to show him to be ignorant of such details, and too simplistic in such proposals; and show herself to be well versed in international and national business matters. She needed to point out grave flaws in his proposals that are just not practical, and then show how her proposals tackle some of these issues much more effectively.

While overall she did a good job, generally speaking, she didn’t bury him on his strength, which a lot of his supporters love, business accumen. She could have shattered that image forever, instead of pointing out his previous business bankruptcies, which he has always made to seem part of his business savvy.

Because Clinton didn’t seriously damage his credibility in business, he took her to task on Trade Agreements and all Agreements in general, including the Agreement with Iran, which he called the ‘worst Agreement in history’ along with NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), which was also the ‘worst Agreement ever’. She failed to pounce on the fact that it was the Republican President, George H. W. Bush, who had negotiated and signed NAFTA, not the Democrats.

She did manage to recover ground on working with allies, partners and NATO, and how important it was for the US to keep its word with its treaty partners. There Trump looked shaky and not at all sure of himself, having to admit that he would work with NATO and US partners/allies but would make them pay for ‘services rendered’ for US protection. That argument will certainly resonate with the segment of the American public, and his supporters, that think that outsiders and other countries are taking advantage of America.

On cyber security they were both a bit vague as to what can be done about the near constant attacks on the US by ‘State actors’, except to say that America’s great capacity in that area will be more fully utilized in the future.

Where Clinton really scored was on Trump’s reluctance to disclose his tax returns. She brought up a number of potential scenarios as to why he was not disclosing, and they were effective in casting doubt on him. She postulated that perhaps his tax returns show he is not as rich as he claims to be, or that he isn’t as charitable as he pretends to be, or perhaps he is owing too much money to certain parties that would compromise him as the President, but most effectively, she made him admit that at least in some years, he had paid no Federal taxes at all. And from there her assertion that he and his proposed tax breaks would favour the rich, who are already not carrying their fair share, had some real resonance. She of course had said that she would raise taxes on the rich so that they carried their fair share of the tax burden. That was an effective line of attack for her as she proposed those higher taxes on the very wealthy would go towards paying for the cost of education etc.

On the endemic racism in America, and violence in the inner cities, and deadly force being used by police in killing black men, Clinton was better informed and made a more detailed and compelling a case. Trump’s past indiscretions and record of being racist, sexist, and demeaning to women came back to haunt him as Clinton brought it up and accused him of it. Here yet again Clinton came off as far more informed and experienced.

Trump’s best line of the night was to turn Clinton’s experience, her major strength, against her, by saying “Hillary’s got experience but it’s bad experience”.

It was a great line, and is the kind of off-the-cuff type of remark that he specializes in, which has an over-sized impact, because it’s simple, nonsensical, yet terribly effective with the public that want it simple. Trump, in throwing off these types of non-factual zingers, scores his best points against his opponents, and endears himself to his supporters.

Clinton’s best come-back was for his attack on her for a lack of stamina. She countered by quoting the numbers of trips to different countries, meetings, planning, and even the hours of grilling in front of the House Committees, as proof for her stamina, finishing with - if he could do all that, then he could talk about her stamina. She pulled that off very coolly, matter-of-factly, in a very Presidential type of way. It was one her best moments.

Overall, the debate showed Hillary Clinton to be ready, informed, and experienced to be an effective President, and Donald Trump to be not ready at all, if he ever could be. His temperament, which he touted as his best trait, to the hilarity of all, is the problem. He is always in denial of facts, refuses to correct, very ill informed, and therefore simply unfit.

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