There were no knock-out punches when Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton finally met face-to-face Monday evening for the first of three presidential debates — one of the most anticipated events in modern political history. It left Clinton’s camp pleased with her performance and his camp confident he lost no ground with voters.
Clinton was polished; a good student of debating, she played offense well. While Trump’s lack of preparation eventually hindered him when she placed him on defense, he opened strong and likely lost no ground.
"Trump started out well talking about broad themes — jobs and trade, the outsider vs. the politician, change," said Bruce Haynes, a Republican media consultant and founding partner of Purple Strategies.
"But about thirty minutes into the debate, Clinton was able to bait him into the territory that he probably didn't want to spend time on," he said.
Trump's lack of discipline and preparation, indulging debates on his business and birtherism, and other sideshow issues kept him on the defensive too often said Haynes. "Ultimately, supporters probably found things to like in their candidate; but better preparation and discipline would have allowed Trump to perform better in the back half of the debate."
The 90 minute debate, moderated by Lester Holt, the NBC evening news anchor, was held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, and occurred at the same moment that Clinton and Trump entered into a virtual tie both nationally and in the key battleground states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida — states necessary to win the Electoral College.
Democratic strategist Dane Strother thought Trump kept his clothes on. "He didn’t throw anything, didn’t curse so he succeeded; his message was simple and he delivered it simply," he said.
Trump made himself change and campaigns are about change, said Strother. "The problem for my party is this is a change electorate; 'She’s got experience and it’s bad experience' it’s much easier to play defense and he parried rather well," he said.
Strother said the political world is upside down with Trump scoring on trade and Clinton scoring on foreign policy.
"He opened well and she closed hard," he said, with Clinton having the best final 45 minutes.
With only six weeks left before Election Day, Clinton still struggles with personal likability and trustworthiness while Trump struggles with unpredictability and questions about temperament.
Trump went into this with an aggressive stand and stayed there, said Allison Dagnes, political science professor at Shippensburg University.
"At times his comments wandered off topic and at times he was not very clear, throwing in anecdotes, examples, and statements without explanation while repeating value judgement words," she said.
Dagnes is unsure if he did anything to widen support with his performance, but it will be viewed as a great success for his supporters who are angry and hate the government and the media, she said. "He did not do much to expand his share of the voters, but he did double-down on the attention he paid to his most ardent supporters and secured their approval. He didn't appear to want to do more than that."
In his first ever one-on-one presidential debate, Trump stepped out confidently at the beginning; he was measured and impassioned on both the economy and jobs, the very issues voters prioritize in battleground states.
His weaknesses unfolded with his irritation over her claim that he supported the Iraq War and his argument with Clinton that she was behind the birtherism of the 2008 presidential campaign.
"There were lots of ups and downs, but clearly, Hillary won on points," said Michael Genovese, political science professor at Loyola Marymont University. "Not a slam dunk but a clear victor for Hillary; I thought Donald would do better but in one-on-one he did not have 'game.'"
The debate came at a crucial point in the campaign as the race became a dead heat this weekend in a CNN poll released Monday. With just over 40 days before Election Day, the survey showed Trump slightly ahead of Clinton, 42 percent to 41 percent, in the battleground state of Colorado and in a tie among likely voters at 45 percent to 44 percent in Pennsylvania.
Trump, in an appearance in the spin room to talk to reporters after the debate, said he was happy with his performance. "It went better than I ever thought," he said.
Conversely, Clinton did not face reporters but her campaign sent out numerous emails and tweets from surrogates declaring that the debate had underlined that Trump was "unhinged and unfit to be president."
Salena Zito covers national politics for Newsmax.
© 2022 Newsmax. All rights reserved.