CNN commentators and guest analysts offer their take on Monday night’s presidential candidate debate. The opinions expressed in these commentaries are solely those of the authors.
David Gergen: Clinton crushed Trump, but was that enough?
Coming into the presidential debate, I thought that if Hillary Clinton won decisively, she would virtually lock up the election. Coming out, it was clear that she did win decisively but I suspect that the campaign will remain ferociously close.
By all traditional standards of debate, Mrs. Clinton crushed. She carefully marshaled her arguments and facts and then sent them into battle with a smile. She rolled out a long list of indictments against Donald Trump, often damaging. By contrast, he came in unprepared, had nothing fresh to say, and increasingly gave way to rants. As the evening ended, the media buried him in criticisms.
Even so, I doubt she has put him away. For one thing, Trump supporters aren’t judging him by traditional standards. They have heard establishment politicians over-promise and under-deliver for so long that they crave something different. They were quick last night to see yet more signs of media bias. Trump was an angry figure, yes, but he is also giving voice to their anger. Those who are for him are likely to stick, despite his ineffectual performance.
Equally to the point, Mrs. Clinton seemingly struggled in the debate to create closer emotional bonds with voters. She has been vexed with the issue of likeability throughout this campaign and in recent months her team has become concerned about her ability to mobilize millennials in the way that Barack Obama did so successfully. Her arguments last night should have made voters think, but I am not sure they will make them march.
Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps Hillary did lock up the race Monday night. Trump certainly blew it. But I imagine the race goes on, and the ultimate decision will be left where it should be: with the voters. Stay tuned for the vice presidential debate next Tuesday!
David Gergen is a senior political analyst for CNN and has been a White House adviser to four presidents. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a professor of public service and co-director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School. Follow him @david_gergen. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
S.E. Cupp: Trump (mostly) did the job
I had two criteria upon which I would judge Monday night’s debate. Not “who looked more presidential,” or “who fact-checked whom the best.” Those aspects go to their bases, not the voters who will determine this election outcome: undecideds.
Hillary Clinton had one job. She had to make Donald Trump look dumb. For undecideds, it will matter less that he’s a bully or a liar. She has issues with trust, too. What will scare them is how unprepared he is. Every chance she gets to point this out has the potential to add points. Unfortunately for Clinton, she didn’t take many of them. While she pointed out that his “cavalier attitude” toward nuclear weapons was dangerous, time and again, she punted at opportunities to point out how ill-informed and unprepared Trump is. Instead, she preferred to argue his vague platform on its merits. For her, this wasn’t damaging, but it didn’t move the needle in her favor.
In contrast, Trump mostly did the job he had to do. To move undecideds, he had to hammer one point home: Clinton is a politician who doesn’t get it. Over and over again, he attacked her as more of the same, out of touch, and a politician who hasn’t gotten it right. He didn’t go after her character or personal issues, for the most part – which voters know well. She outmanned him on specifics and details. But his attacks were far more effective than hers.
While Clinton was right to suggest the fact-checkers get busy on his statements – many were misleading – if I’m looking at who moved the needle tonight with voters, it was Trump, not Clinton. And, Robby Mook, I assure you, this anti-Trump conservative isn’t grading him “on a curve.”
S.E. Cupp is the author of “Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media’s Attack on Christianity,” co-author of “Why You’re Wrong About the Right” and a columnist at the New York Daily News.
Errol Louis: Where Clinton damaged Trump
Hillary Clinton did her homework on Donald Trump in the week leading up to tonight’s debate, and the prep work paid off, especially when it came to his business record.
The former secretary of state needled the Donald’s business record, hitting on well-reported incidents and turning his claim to fame against him. She brought up his handful of bankruptcies, allegations that he’s stiffed workers, his pining for the housing crisis for his own benefit and his aversion to releasing his perpetually under-audit tax returns.
“It must be something really important, even terrible, that he’s trying to hide,” Clinton said of Trump’s tax returns, turning the tables on allegations that she’s hiding something in her deleted emails. “It just seems to me that this is something the American people deserve to see.”
Clinton even took a step further and pointed out that Trump didn’t pay any income tax returns in certain years, a strategy designed to chip away at the blue-collar demographic that he’s cultivated in the last few years. Trump, who’s worked up a populist campaign saying that the government has stiffed the little guy, put his own foot in his mouth, butted in and said “that makes me smart.”
Clinton came into the night neck-and-neck with Trump in key states like Colorado and Pennsylvania, needing to weaken her Republican opponent on some of the things that have made him strong. It’s a strategy her campaign has taken since July, when it rolled out an architect who claimed Trump shortchanged him over work at a golf course. (To twist the knife in his side, Clinton noted that the architect was in the audience tonight.)
It was a tough attack to which Trump will need an answer in future debates.
Mel Robbins: Hillary Clinton got bad advice
As a Clinton supporter, it pains me to say Trump won.
Clinton was too restrained, too smart – and as much as I hate to say it – she was too presidential. And being presidential won’t help her win the election. She spoke to the intellectuals tuning in; she did not speak to the average American.
Her advisers told her to restrain from attacking Trump. She got the wrong counsel and it could cost her the election.
Her rebuttal to Trump’s incoherent rants was to chuckle and tell viewers to check in with the fact checkers. The fact checkers won’t win the election for her.
She needed to take him out at the knees. We know Clinton is smart, what we needed to see was a woman who is tough and won’t take nonsense from anyone. She failed to do that tonight. Tonight, she was nice. Nice won’t win the presidency.
Donald spent the night sniffing constantly before he spoke. To paraphrase one tweeter: He’s allergic to his own crap.
He lost the 400-pound vote but he won the debate and unless Clinton changes tactics he’s going to win the election.
Mel Robbins is a CNN commentator, legal analyst, best-selling author and keynote speaker. In 2014, she was named outstanding news talk-radio host by the Gracie Awards.
Tara Setmayer: Trump kept taking the bait
As a real estate mogul, Donald Trump is more than familiar with the expression “location, location, location.” In presidential debates, it’s temperament, temperament, temperament. History has not been kind to Dan Quayle’s perceived weakness, George H. W. Bush’s time check or Al Gore’s sighs. And it won’t be kind to Trump’s undisciplined, defensive rants.