She wasn’t warm and fuzzy, but she was calm, cool and in command of her facts. She hit more than once his “Trumped up trickled down” tax plan, a winner with her supporters. She made a pitch for gun control, extolled African American families and urged anti-bias training for police. She prodded Trump to agree that we should take guns away from people on the no-fly list. (The National Rifle Association won’t be pleased.) She slammed Trump when he accused her of preparing for the debate. “You know what else I prepared for, I prepared to be president,” she said. “And I think that’s a good thing.” Late in the debate, she reamed him for his statements on nuclear weapons and willingness to allow other countries to get the bomb.
Trump was soon back to classic Trump — inveighing against trade and making bizarre comments. At one point he accused Clinton of fighting the Islamic State for her entire adult life (?!) and declared it was “smart” not to release his taxes. He incorrectly stated that “stop and frisk” had not been ruled unconstitutional. At times he seemed to babble, running out of material. He still has not bothered to flesh out proposals or to broaden his grasp of issues. His meandering answer on first use of nuclear weapons suggested he had no idea what the issue was. Trump blundered accusing Clinton of lacking stamina, giving her an opportunity to boast of her own travels and recount his insults against women.
His worst moments came as he continued to defend raising the birther issue and claimed credit for prompting President Obama to produce his birth certificate. Clinton laid into him, slamming him for starting his political career by trying to de-legitimize the first African American president. “A racist lie” is what she called it. She raised the lawsuit from the 1970s for housing discrimination. Trump was also thrown into defensive mode when cornered on his support for the Iraq War. His most effective moments came when he said Obama and Clinton created a vacuum in Iraq and allowed the Islamic State to spread. When, however, he insisted his temperament was his greatest asset, one had to laugh.
As for Lester Holt, who was poked and prodded by each side — Clinton demanding he fact check the debaters and Trump insisting he must not — he played an exceptionally low-key role, letting Trump interrupt at times. He did occasionally fact check Trump (on his continued birtherism obsession and support for the Iraq War) but he surely cannot be accused of tipping the scales one way or the other.
Trump needed to conceal his temper, avoid queries on his taxes and dalliance with birtherism, and appear ready to be president. He didn’t. There were too many instances in which the real Donald showed through. Clinton wasn’t emotive, but she was cool and efficient in drawing blood. Moreover, she likely boosted the enthusiasm of her minority supporters. The first debate win goes to Clinton.