The first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on Monday, September 26th was incredibly contentious, featuring an onslaught of interruptions from Trump and one-line zingers from Clinton as both fought desperately to win over the American public. Breaking the record for the most-watched presidential debate in our nation’s history, the Trump-Clinton square off engaged around 84 million viewers, according to Nielsen. With the particular goal of winning over undecided voters, Clinton’s expansive policy proposals and suave jabs at Trump’s poor record with women and African American voters ultimately led her to be declared the night’s victor by many viewers.
In an attempt to highlight both the successes and failures of the candidates’ performances, Ilana Cohen gathered a small group of fellow volunteers from the Hillary for America (HFA) Brooklyn headquarters to chime in with their thoughts on key issues that arose during the debate.
Meet the Commentators:
Ilana Cohen - High Schoolers for Hillary correspondent and HFA volunteer from Brooklyn, NYC
Afoma Maduegbuna - HFA volunteer from Westchester, NY
Kevin Manuele - HFA volunteer from Brooklyn, NYC
Isabella Rhodes - HFA volunteer from Brooklyn, NYC
Ben Siciliano - HFA volunteer from Queens, NYC
On National Infrastructure...
"Well, sometimes there's not a direct transfer of skills from business to government, but sometimes what happened in business would be really bad for government." - Hillary Clinton
Ilana: I’m impressed with Clinton’s attempts to shatter the image of Trump as a decent businessman. His company’s bankruptcies speak for themselves, and during the debate, he certainly lost his footing in trying to defend his business’ history of racial discrimination. Ultimately, Trump can adopt as calm a tone as he likes, but from building his businesses on the backs of "little people" to endorsing stop-and-frisk policies across the country, his ideas are far from those of Secretary Clinton’s and far from American values.
Isabella: One of the many offensive comments from Trump was [that] "we've become a third world country." The ignorance he perpetuates is dangerous and incredibly out of line. Coming from a straight white male billionaire living in America, this confirms how blind he is to all of his privileges.
On the Economy...
"Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I think it's real." - Hillary Clinton
Ilana: Secretary Clinton’s plan to reinvigorate parts of the American economy while simultaneously combating climate change through the development of the clean energy sector is one of the most defining policy plans of her candidacy, one that will hopefully aid in winning her the presidency.
Kevin: I’m annoyed that [Clinton] didn’t push [Trump] on his forty-five percent tariff policy...it’s possibly the stupidest economic plan ever put forth by a politician. People don’t seem to realize that it means that every single thing on the shelf in Walmart will be forty-five percent more expensive, not to mention that even more companies will leave America. Why would they open factories in a place where the machinery that they want to buy in order to operate is forty-five percent more expensive?
On Systemic Racism…
"These are felons. These are people that are bad people that shouldn't be -- when you have 3,000 shootings in Chicago from January 1st, when you have 4,000 people killed in Chicago by guns, from the beginning of the presidency of Barack Obama, his hometown, you have to have stop-and-frisk." - Donald Trump
Ben: In terms of exhibiting commitment to racial equality, Trump’s straight up denial of facts regarding crime rates since the beginning of Obama's administration allows Hillary to come out ahead.
Afoma: Trump is totally clueless when it comes to race relations and income inequality in this country. As Hillary so aptly pointed out, he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth; he has no idea what it’s like to be poor or black in America.
On Foreign Policy…
"If [Donald’s] going to criticize a deal that has been very successful in giving us access to Iranian facilities that we never had before, then he should tell us what his alternative would be. But it's like his plan to defeat ISIS. He says it's a secret plan, but the only secret is that he has no plan." - Hillary Clinton
Ben: Trump’s incoherence regarding foreign policy--and further denial of his stance on the Iraq War--opened the door for Hillary to lie out her plans clearly for the spectators to see, and I think she did a good job of doing so.
Afoma: I don’t understand how Donald Trump blatantly lies and thinks he can get away with it.
On National Security...
"I think we have to get NATO to go into the Middle East with us, in addition to surrounding nations, and we have to knock the hell out of ISIS, and we have to do it fast...ISIS formed in this vacuum created by Barack Obama and Secretary Clinton." - Donald Trump
Isabella: Personally, I was expecting Trump to have a vague policy plan--if that--for addressing terrorism, and while that expectation was met, I was let down by Hillary's response as well. I know that in the past many have accused both candidates of proposing simplified solutions. That being said, Hillary at least made valid points, whereas Trump stumbled through the questions on national security with contradictions and incomprehensible rhetoric.
Ilana: Just like Trump’s tax returns, his plan for combatting ISIS seems to be more of a myth than a reality. Clinton’s incredible experience dealing with terrorism and foreign policy as Secretary of State is not something that Trump can simply pick up from "the Generals" or try to avoid having by relying on business tact.
Overall Opinions & "The Winner"…
"I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And, yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president. And I think that's a good thing." - Hillary Clinton
Ben: On the whole, I expected the debate to be more policy-oriented in that I thought [the moderator] Lester Holt would really press "The Donald" for specifics. I think that's where Hillary would have humiliated him, but ultimately the moderator let him off easy in situations like that--namely the ‘Birther’ question--and as a result, Hillary didn't produce the landslide victory that I had hoped for. That being said, I think Secretary Clinton did an excellent job outlining her plan for sustaining economic growth while exposing [Trump’s] lack of basic knowledge concerning the fundamentals of trickle-down economics.
Afoma: I think overall, Hillary definitely won the debate. She was poised and informed. This debate only reconfirmed [for] me that she is exactly the kind of president I want.
Kevin: I think both the candidates did well. Trump was way more "presidential" than he’s ever been before, and at this point, just by not saying anything too terrible, he can gain some points. He did have a few minutes where he was just shouting at Clinton, and looked completely ridiculous. This was by far Clinton’s best part of the debate because she was so calm and collected in the face of [Trump’s petty behavior].
Isabella: I wish that there were more questions about immigration because Hillary has realistic and solid plans regarding the topic, and she would easily [have] countered Trump.
Ilana: Ultimately, I see Clinton as the clear victor in this debate. However, I’m unsure of whether her strong performance was enough to convince undecided voters--particularly, Democrat-leaning Republicans--that she is the better pick. I think that most viewers probably had preconceived notions of the presidential candidates that were only reaffirmed by Clinton and Trump’s somewhat expected performances. That said, I found watching Clinton to be mesmerizing. Her progressive policy plans and refusal to back down in the face of Trump’s bullying and bigotry only reminded me of her unparalleled leadership capability, an invaluable skill I hope voters allow her to bring to the Oval Office on November 8th.