Democracy Dies in Darkness

The Fix

Winners and losers from the first presidential debate

By Chris Cillizza

September 26, 2016 at 11:00 PM

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Here are the key moments from the first 2016 presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Sept. 26. NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt moderated the debate at Hofstra University in New York. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

The first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is in the books. I tweeted, took notes and picked some winners and losers. They're below.

Winners

* Hillary Clinton: Clinton wasn't perfect in this debate. At times she came across as overly rehearsed and robotic. I thought her answer on race relations was way too much head and not enough heart. But, Clinton was head and shoulders better than Trump. She was, unsurprisingly, very well prepared — using a slew of facts and figures to not only make her positive case but also to slam Trump. She was terrific in bashing Trump on taxes. Her response to Trump's attack on her temperament — the shoulder shimmy! — was effective. Her birtherism response — while low-hanging fruit — was effective. And, on her biggest weakness — her decision to establish a private email server at the State Department, Clinton skated. She delivered a full and unequivocal apology — what a concept! — and the debate moved on without much of a stir. This was a clear win for her on virtually every front.

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* Split screen: I'm not sure who made the call at networks to keep Trump and Clinton on screen at all times during the debates, but whoever did it: good job! Debates are aimed at revealing not only policy proposals but also personality and temperament. Split screens help illuminate who these people are when under duress and attack, when they are nervous and when they feel backed into a corner. Trump didn't fare as well as Clinton with the split screen. He sighed, made faces and looked, well, not very presidential.

* Lester Holt: My guess is that the "Nightly News" anchor will be criticized in some circles for a) not fact-checking Trump enough and b) often disappearing during the debate. On point A, it's impossible to fact-check every single thing Trump says in real time without making the debate seven hours long. On point B, I applaud Holt for disappearing at times. Good moderators are the ones you don't remember; they're like referees in that regard. Holt let the two candidates duke it out time and time again. He avoided forcing a format on them or demanding that they move on when they were discussing real disagreements. That's what he's supposed to do! Want a testament to how well Holt did? I guarantee you no one is talking about him tomorrow. That's a win.

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The Fix's Callum Borchers breaks down NBC's Lester Holt's approach to moderating the first presidential debate on Sept. 26. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post; photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

* Twitter: I really don't know how I watched debates before Twitter. Sure, it can be distracting at times. And mean. And snarky. Also, I just described why I love it so much.

* The "bigly" vs "big league" debate: I am certain Trump says "big league." Others are convinced he says "bigly." Regardless, he said one of those things a bunch on Monday night. Also, well done Merriam-Webster!

Losers

* Donald Trump: Trump was simply not prepared well enough for this debate. He regularly struggled to deal with questions he had to know were coming. His answer on his five-year quest to show that President Obama was not born in this country was like watching a car accident in slow motion. His answer on why he wasn't willing to release his tax returns wasn't much better. His explanation of his position on the Iraq War not only ran counter to the facts but made very little sense. On temperament, perhaps the key to Trump's chances of beating Clinton, he resorted to insisting he had one of the best temperaments and that Clinton had come unhinged in a speech over the weekend. (Sidebar: If you have to say you have one of the best temperaments, you probably don't.) Then there was the fact that Trump left so many potent hits on Clinton unused. He never once used the phrase "basket of deplorables." He barely skirted her email problems. He didn't even mention the words "honest" or "trustworthy." And, as the debate wore on, Trump seemed to resort to his worst instincts — interrupting Clinton and shouting "not true" while she spoke, with very little backup for those claims. Not a good night.

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump had a case of the sniffles during the first presidential debate on Sept. 26 – so we put them all in one supercut, with a few of his interruptions for good measure. (Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

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* Donald Trump's website: Take a note: If you are going to make mention of your website during a presidential debate where the audience is likely to be upward of 80 million people, make sure it is ready for some traffic.

* The debate stage background: Who thought it was a good idea to have words behind the two candidates? And in sort-of cursive no less! I am sure it seemed like a good idea in theory to have the Constitution Declaration of Independence (Editor's note: I am a dummy. Also it was late at night.) as a background. But, in the words of our greatest philosopher, Homer Simpson, "In theory, communism works!" It was far too distracting for this viewer and needs to be done away with for future debates.

Hillary Clinton. And the background.

* The audience: Look, if you are going to have an audience why tell them repeatedly they can say and do nothing during the debate? I am agnostic on whether these general election debates should have an audience at all. But, if you are going to have one, don't tell them to never make a sound. A little bit of cheering and reaction makes the whole thing more watchable, more enjoyable and more real. If we don't let the audience react every once in a while, then we let the "Quiet Car" people win. And we can't let that happen.

* 400-pound hackers: Trump, pushing back against claims that the Russians were responsible for the hack of the Democratic National Committee, suggested that a 400-pound hacker sitting on a bed might have done it. Hmmm. I mean, maybe? If so, here's what he looks like:

More debate coverage:

Fact-checking 23 claims from the first Clinton-Trump presidential debate

Fox News’s Brit Hume says Hillary Clinton was ‘not necessarily attractive’ during the debate

Howard Dean has a theory about Donald Trump’s sniffles

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton arrive onstage for the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
Bill Clinton, left, Hillary Clintons husband and former U.S. president, speaks with former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani at the debate site. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Melania Trump, left, Ivanka Trump, center, and Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence wait before the debate. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
Mark Cuban, center, sits in the audience before the debate begins. (Matt Rourke/AP)
Chelsea Clinton and former president Bill Clinton wave to the audience before the debate. (David Goldman/AP)
Hillary Clinton greets NBCs Lester Holt before the start of the debate. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump walk to their podiums. (Matt Rourke/AP)
Donald Trump speaks as Hillary Clinton gestures during the debate. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)
Donald Trumps children Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Tiffany Trump listen to the debate. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Donald Trump makes a point. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)
Hillary Clinton speaks during the debate. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)
Debate moderator Lester Holt adjusts his glasses. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)
Donald Trump speaks as Hillary Clinton and moderator Lester Holt listen. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Donald Trump shakes hands with Hillary Clinton at the conclusion of their first presidential debate. (Joe Raedle/Reuters)
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton smile after the debate concludes. (Mike Segar/Reuters)
Hillary Clinton reacts as Donald Trump, center, shakes the hand of debate moderator Lester Holt. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)
Donald Trump, center, kisses his wife, Melania Trump, as he prepares to leave the stage. (Joe Raedle/AFP/Getty Images)
Hillary Clinton hugs her daughter, Chelsea Clinton, after the fdebate. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)
Photo Gallery: Clinton and Trump clash during first presidential debate in New York

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for The Washington Post.

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