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Clinton Dominates a Sniffly Trump in the First TV Debate

Hillary came out on top, but will losing the debate really hurt Trump in the polls?

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September 27, 2016 :: 3:58 AM

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ept. 26 saw Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton face off in a one-on-one debate for the very first time in the life of this current presidential race, with many agreeing that the Democratic candidate came out on top.

A CNN/ORC poll of debate watchers, released shortly after the televised event, found that 62% gave victory to Clinton, 27% to Trump. Another post-debate poll, from Public Policy Polling, found Clinton winning by a narrower margin, 52% to 40%.

But even the Mexican peso, which has been moving in the opposite direction of Trump’s poll numbers (and had hit an all-time low against the U.S. dollar before the first debate) received a sudden leap during the debate, soaring more than 2% against the dollar. 

The pair clashed on temperament, debate preparation and tax returns, as Clinton repeatedly riled up her opponent. In one of the sharpest exchanges, Trump mocked her for preparing for the debate while he was hitting the campaign trail, leaving himself wide open for her comeback: “I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate,” she quickly replied. “And, yes, I did. You know what else I did? I prepared to be president.”

Elsewhere Clinton slammed Trump for his record of climate change denial (“a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese”), racism and sexism, highlighting “the birther lie” and the fact that he once called Miss Universe 1996 Alicia Machado “Miss Housekeeping” because she was Latina and “Miss Piggy” because she had gained weight.

Fact-checking and truthfulness were high on the agenda, and while many were happy to commend moderator Lester Holt’s performance, he did let a few lies slip past—starting with Clinton’s claim that it was nice to be there with Trump. None of Trump’s statements could match his strangest claim of the night, though: that Clinton has been fighting ISIS “all [her] adult life,” despite the group being less than a decade old.

Somehow, though, it wasn’t anything Trump said that generated the most conversation or criticism. Instead it was the fact that he sniffed his way through the entire night, leaving everyone to wonder whether he was suffering from a cold or whether the problem was attributed to something he’d been putting in his nose before taking to the stage. Former DNC Chairman Howard Dean plainly asked on Twitter, “Notice Trump sniffing all the time. Coke user?”

It’s hard to be sure exactly what impact this first debate will have on the election to come, though stats wizard Nate Silver suggested that “Clinton became a more plausible president tonight and Trump became a less plausible one” on his blog, FiveThirtyEight.com.

There are still two more presidential debates to come, taking place Oct. 9 and Oct. 19—as well as a vice-presidential debate taking place between Tim Kaine and Mike Pence on Oct. 4—and while Trump will perhaps hope to appear more presidential next time around, will the first debate’s poor performance actually hurt him where it counts, in the polls?

“This time, pundits and pollsters seem to agree on the Clinton win,” says Silver, and “the correlation between the instant-reaction polls and the eventual effect on horse-race polls has actually grown stronger in recent election cycles, perhaps because the conventional wisdom formulates itself more quickly.”

Silver is quick to note, however, that we must wait five to seven days following a debate before it is fully reflected in presidential election forecasts.

Still, we have at least one thing to be thankful for. The debate inspired the Will & Grace cast to reunite for a 10-minute election special, guaranteeing that at least one good thing has come out of this whole mess:

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