Political analyst Richard Wagner reflects on highlights of the first Presidential debate.

Political analyst Richard Wagner reflects on highlights of the first Presidential debate. 

The first presidential debate started off civil, got into some personal attacks, but managed to remain focused mostly on policy issues.

Here are some highlights that will show the similarities and differences between Clinton and Trump, to give you an idea of their differences in character and policy positions.

At the beginning of the first presidential debate, they were both asked to discuss the economy.  Hillary Clinton emphasized infrastructure investments.  Trump emphasized our bad trade deals and bringing back jobs.

Trump’s gaffs – could’ve been worse

Trump managed to stay relatively poised, compared to the primaries. However, Donald Trump is Donald Trump.  His first farfetched statement towards Clinton was, “No wonder you’ve been fighting ISIS your entire life.”  Clearly, that cannot be the case.  But Trump did later state that Clinton and the other politicians in power have failed to contain or defeat ISIS over the last decade, which is more accurate.

On not paying some of the contractors who have worked for him, Trump responded, “Maybe he didn’t do a very good job”.  Neither Trump nor Clinton are saints when it comes to business, but clearly, Clinton is better at talking her way out of these situations than Trump.

How are we doing?

Whether it’s trade, military power, or the state of living conditions for African Americans and Hispanics, Trump and Clinton are clearly the almost polar opposite of how they see America.

Trump claims that the US is losing all over the world.  He says that we have a trade deficit with every single trading partner.  Clinton is less cynical about trade clearly.

Trump spoke of how unfair it is to African Americans and Hispanics that they are “living in hell” and the politicians make them empty promises, but do nothing about it.  Clinton, on the other hand, referred to some of the more successful African Americans, as though that debunks Trump on this, even claiming that Trump was painting a bad picture of the black community.  Trump did, however, speak of “some of the most wonderful people [he’d] ever met” in these largely black and Hispanic neighborhoods he’d visited recently.

Overall, Trump sees an America that is on the wrong track but can be recovered.  Clinton sees an America that is on the right track but needs to continue on that right track.  

First Presidential Debate On Trade

Both candidates officially agree that we need to negotiate good trade deals that benefit American workers.  But Trump has criticized Clinton for being inconsistent on this.  

Trump asked why in 30 years hasn’t Clinton done anything about these bad trade deals.  Why did she once call TPP the Gold Standard, and only recently changed her position?  

Clinton did defend herself effectively by pointing out her opposition to CAFTA, which was mid-Bush era.  So it isn’t like she’s only very recently changed her position on trade policy in general.  

However, when pressed on NAFTA, which Bill Clinton supported, Hillary Clinton was evasive, instead of more broadly defending her husband’s record without specifically defending NAFTA.

Taxes, regulation, and jobs

On paid family leave for mothers, Clinton and Trump essentially agree, and both do have plans for this.  As Trump says, however, they “disagree on how to get there.”

One of the clearest contrasts between Clinton and Trump is on taxation and regulation.  Trump is not a conventional Republican on trade, but he is on taxes.  Trump calls for across the board tax cuts for “job creators”, while Clinton denounces this as failed “trickle down economics”.  

Of course, Trump’s plan, unless previous Republicans, depends on bringing jobs back from overseas, in order to have a larger tax base.  

Like a conventional Republican, Trump calls for deregulation to make it easier for businesses to operate in the US.  

Clinton does call for streamlining regulations to make them simpler, but she is clearly more favorable to regulations than Trump.

Clinton highlighted the opinions of certain experts who claim that Trump’s tax plan would greatly increase the deficit, while Clinton’s tax plan adds nothing to the deficit.  However, these are only certain experts, and they did not factor in the increased size of the tax base that would result if Trump’s trade policies successfully bring back American manufacturing jobs.

On policing

The one thing they do agree on is that we need better relations between our police and our communities.  Beyond that, there is stark contrast on how to address policing and crime.

Hillary Clinton supports an approach balancing crime fighting with more responsible police officers.  She discusses systemic racism in the criminal justice system, and natural biases that we all have, not just the police.  She advocates for training the police to be aware of such biases so that they can better check them when dealing with people.

Trump is the “law and order” candidate.  He highlights that phrase and focuses heavily on supporting our police officers and cracking down on crime.  In relation to race, he is mainly critical of how cities run by Democrats, in predominantly black or Hispanic areas, don’t do enough to fight crime.  

So for Trump, the discrimination is not coming from the police themselves, but from politicians who don’t use the police properly to keep people safe.

It’s how you end

The last question they were asked was how they’d respond if the other candidate won the election.  Both said they’d support the other, but how they said it certainly highlights a fundamental difference between the two of them.

Clinton’s response was more of a politician’s response.  She said things like “I believe in democracy” and “I certainly will support the outcome of this election” without saying “Trump” or “him”.  

Trump, however, managed to be more critical of Hillary Clinton, while at the same time saying he’d support her if she won.  

He concluded on this note, “I want to make America great again.  I’m going to be able to do it.  I don’t believe Hillary will…if she wins, I will absolutely support her!”  

I’m glad that this question was asked.  Whoever wins, let’s remember that this is our country, all of it.  I don’t want the president to fail because I don’t want America to fail.

Richard Wagner is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Florida State College at Jacksonville. He conducts independent study on the American conservative movement and foreign policy. When he is...

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