The First Presidential Debate: Recap

Setting a new record with more than 80 million viewers, the first presidential debate on Monday, September 26 was the ultimate smackdown between America’s two least favorite presidential nominees. There was never a dull moment during the hour and a half debate, with tempers flaring and twitter feeds blowing up. So whether you had a major English paper due Tuesday and couldn’t watch the debate, or just didn’t really feel like spending an hour and a half on the couch with your parents, here’s what you missed.


Photo credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

The Background:

The two candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, could not be more different, just like their preparation for the debate. Clinton came into the debate with hours of prep work under her belt, including a mock debate with longtime advisor Philippe Reines playing the role of Trump. Trump, however, took a more modified approach to preparation. This included little practice and rehearsal, and no mock debates. He did watch videos of some of Clinton’s past debates to find her vulnerabilities, but he believes that a debate is not won on policy minutiae, but rather the larger presence and ideals of a candidate.

The Debate:

At the heart of Monday’s debate, Clinton was specific in her tax policy and economic plan, whereas Trump focused more on the big ideas of his policies and how he plans to “Make America Great Again.” Trump did appeal to blue-collar voters, as he described Clinton as a Washington insider; however, critics have said that most of his answers lacked the finesse of an articulate politician. Consider his discussion of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization): he was “all for NATO” during the debate, which is a change from his earlier position on the alliance, leaving NATO allies and Americans a little confused. Critics attribute his incongruency to a lack of preparation. On the other hand, Clinton was criticized for being too prepared in her answers. People have called her answers “robotic,” questioning if she should have prepared less for the debate.


Photo credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

The Impressions:

Within the Collegiate community, the debate has gotten a wide variety of responses. The results from a recent poll show that about 49% of surveyed students believed that Clinton outperformed Trump, 27% of students believed Trump outperformed Clinton, and 23% of students thought that both candidates performed about the same (232 total responses, of which 204 actually watched, which is 45% of the Upper School student body). Adam Bowes (‘17) said he was “really disappointed as a whole with the debate,” and felt that “none of the candidates really put out any good ideas.” On the other hand, Sonja Kapadia (‘17) believes that, “Hillary Clinton was significantly more composed, clear, and articulate in the debate than Donald Trump.” She continued to say that it was the fact that, “[Clinton] used supported reasoning that was consistent with her platform” that made her the winner in her eyes. Parker Conquest (‘17) feels that “Trump performed better on policy topics,” but added that “Clinton performed better on scandals.”

The Take-Aways:

Whip out that English paper, because you’re going to want to change some of your vocabulary. Why not use “tremendous” instead of “large” in your analysis of Infinite Jest? It certainly worked for Trump. The candidate, who is notorious for his huge vocabulary, used the word over eight times over the course of the debate. You might also consider being a trailblazer and using words that you won’t find in your classroom dictionary (S/O Kyle Riopelle). But remember, try not to be too braggadocious when they become a hit.

Although Monday night was strictly a political debate, the evening gave way to a wealth of non-political insight. If you didn’t know the Declaration of Independence before the debate on Monday, you do now. The background for the stage on Monday, the actual text of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration, was a little distracting. But it wasn’t quite as distracting as those sniffles. If you’ve been battling that pesky cold that’s going around school, you aren’t alone. Trump has it, too. While he was trying to control his nose, Clinton was trying to control her shoulders. If you are still struggling to find an activity to fulfill one of your sports credits, you may want to consider the new big thing: shoulder shimmying. Red pantsuit required to participate.*

The jury is still out on who Americans think won the debate, so it will be interesting see out how Monday’s debate affects polls nationwide. Make sure to tune into the second debate, at Washington University in St. Louis, on Sunday, October 9.

*Subject to approval by Mr. Palyo.

Featured image photo credit: Damon Winter, The New York Times.

About the author

Gillian is a senior at Collegiate.