The biggest question on America’s mind, and nearly everyone else’s, right now is “Who’s going to be the next president?” Of course, this question is posed every four years, but this time, everything’s up in the air. The incumbent president, Barack Obama, has nearly completed his second term, and Constitutional law does not allow him to run for a third. That in and of itself was bound to make an interesting, heated race to the White House, with Democrats looking to keep a hold on the seat and Republicans vying to take back control. Remarkably- perhaps for the first time in history- the two candidates for the presidency each have the highest negative ratings in the polls of all time. The fact that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton managed to claw their way to the top of their respective parties to receive the nomination and make it to the debate stage is a bit of an anomaly- and that was consensus before the debates even took place. Through all the run-on sentences, jabs at policy and personality, and rampant interruptions, who managed to sway more undecided voters to their side? Who won each of the two presidential debates?
First Presidential Debate: Regular Debate Format
Most of us have heard something about the first debate, given how it exploded over the media and raked in an unprecedented 84 million viewers according to CNN, beating out the view count of all other presidential debates. Both candidates had a lot to prove to undecided voters and a lot of convincing that needed to be done even within their own parties; some tuned in just to see if it would have any entertainment value. Suffice to say it was a pretty big deal.
The debate was divided up into six segments, each assigned their own topic by moderator Lester Holt. An opening question was posed, and each candidate would have an equal amount of time to debate the question or offer solutions. The debate began civilly enough, both sides seeming to make an honest attempt to act like adults. Inevitably, within the first 30 minutes that all changed. Trump, in classic fashion, began interrupting Hillary left and right, trying to talk over her. Hillary, in classic fashion, began making jabs at Trump’s temperament and whether or not he could be trusted as Commander in Chief. Hillary avoided Trump’s jab about her emails, and Trump made an effort to brush off Hillary’s allegations towards his tax returns. Really, the whole thing devolved into a shouting match about personalities and “presidential appearances” (which was, unfortunately, an actual topic) when it should have been a debate to propose solutions to the issues addressed and further the campaign’s efforts.
The performance was far from perfect on either side, but many political analysts and commentators, such as The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, have come to the consensus that Hillary Clinton had the better debate performance at the end of the day. While Cillizza says she “came across as overly rehearsed and robotic,” and that her answer to the race relations question may have come with “way too much head and not enough heart,” those drawbacks were contrasted by effective responses supported by facts and figures that managed to keep Trump on defense, where he floundered and fell behind.
Second Presidential Debate: Town Hall Format
The second presidential debate’s format throws a wrench in the traditional setup: a group of voters selected by the Gallup Organization with their own questions for the candidates, moderated by Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper. The questions were prescreened to ensure appropriateness and authenticity, but proposed by the voters themselves, so things were bound to get interesting.
Predictably, the first third of the debate was spent discussing Trump’s latest scandal, which erupted over the past weekend, about his comments regarding and even suggesting he would perform sexual harassment against women; Clinton’s own scandal of leaked campaign emails was nearly forgotten in the fiasco. The debate eventually did move on, promises were made, verbal blows traded, threats of arrest made, and the final question posed: Was there anything at all you found admirable about your opponent? Hillary began by answering Donald’s children were a credit to himself and then attempted to re discuss a point from the previous topic; Trump said he admired Hillary’s tenacity and that she doesn’t give up or quit, and the debate ended on that cautious trade of compliments.
A clear winner has not really been picked by most analysts. Some say Hillary performed well in that she managed to get some quality attacks in on Trump, while others say Trump performed much better in this debate than the previous one and was actually able to discuss a few substantial points. Many others agree, however, that this debate was more or less a draw. HIllary made some strong points but didn’t really say anything we haven’t heard before, whereas Trump managed to gain slight ground and stop the loss of voters caused by the video scandal, but failed to completely reassure the majority of the Republican party.
Third Presidential Debate: Regular Debate Format
The third presidential debate was a return to the basics, as its format was identical to the first debate’s. This debate was moderated by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace and he, like Holt did in the first debate, chose the topics for Wednesday night. Excitingly, the first topic that Wallace chose to address was the empty seat on the Supreme Court! Hillary, in her response, stated that the selection really represented what kind of country we want to be in the future, something that many voters are concerned about with this election in particular. Trump, surprisingly, gave an incredibly straight answer to the question in stating that the justice he would appoint would be pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment, and (obviously) conservative.
The debate of course went on to address a variety of topics, and managed to remain relatively civil for the first 30 minutes. In fact, I would go as far as to say that those first 30 minutes were probably the most civil in the entire election. As one could expect, however, everything began to derail after that. I don’t think anyone was surprised when Trump began to speak more heatedly and brazenly, but when Hillary began shouting too, the debate was doomed to explode. In fact, while Clinton debated about as well as she has in the past, her actions that night betrayed her. She lost composure a handful of times that night- continuously attempting to talk over not just Trump but Chris Wallace as well. She made a comment about Donald Trump being unwilling to condemn Russian hackers while in an earlier debate mocked him for even bringing them up. Heck, she preached about Trump belittling women when she herself is known to have called the infamous Monica Lewinsky a “narcissistic loony toon!” That isn’t to say Trump was entirely innocent, either, as he outright refused to adhere to the great American tradition of accepting loss in an election and instead said that he’d tell us at the time and wanted to keep us “in suspense” until then. In short, this election not only touched upon key issues that the other debates laid aside and really let the candidates loose on each other, but it was also by far the most entertaining (and disconcerting) to watch of all three debates.
The only question left to answer now is this: who will be the next president of the United States of America? It’s up to the nation to decide.