The Current

Trump falters after early lead in first U.S. presidential debate

It was must-watch television, cringe politics and alternately delicious and poisonous electoral jockeying, but how will American voters react? The Current dissects last night's Clinton-Trump presidential debate where fact and fiction make a dizzying blur.
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton shake hands after the first U.S. presidential debate at New York's Hofstra University, Sept. 26, 2016. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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Widely expected to be one of the most-watched political encounters in American history, the first televised debate between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump didn't disappoint.

'That makes me smart'

7 years ago
Duration 0:26
Trump brags about not paying taxes

But with just six weeks until Americans go to the polls, did either candidate manage to clear a path to the White House?

Longtime Republican debate coach Brett O'Donnell doesn't think so. He tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti last night's debate will change nothing.

"We are pretty much where we started," says O'Donnell. He describes last night's match as "a tale of two debates". He says Donald Trump was winning at the start.

"[Trump] seemed to have a relatively good command of the issues and he was not off limits, particularly on the trade issue which is so important to a lot of voters in the Midwest."

O'Donnell said Trump talked intelligently about trade, was focused on jobs and connected with voters. But he tells Tremonti that as the debate heated up, Clinton succeeded in getting Trump on the defensive.

"There were just several moments where she attacked him and he spent long periods of time defending himself rather than turning it into a moment where he could get on offense, and there were lots of opportunities too," says O'Donnell.

University of Toronto philosophy professor Mark Kingwell, who focuses on social and political theory, was disappointed with the first U.S. presidential debate and tells Tremonti it lacked a "spontaneous combustion moment."

"People thought that Donald Trump's express train to crazy-town would somehow crash and burn on that stage — it didn't really happen."

Kingwell doesn't believe either candidate convinced swing voters with anything they said last night.

In Kingwell's mind, the fact that Trump was out of his depth and  "looked like a blustering fool for a good part of the debate" doesn't mean Clinton scored "a knockout punch."

But he says Clinton's comment that  "Donald lives in his own reality" would resonate.

"Donald Trump has been gaslighting the entire country and the entire world making us all feel crazy because he's crazy," says Kingwell.

Kingwell points out that Clinton was strongest when she was able to marshal various policy decisions and facts based on her own experience.

"Hillary Clinton trumps Donald with facts instead of fiction," was Celinda Lake's take-away from last night. The leading political strategist with the Democratic Party, tells Tremonti that the spotlight illuminated what she sees as Trump's alternative reality.

"It's like we are in junior high year ... And what happens when you take that attitude to our foreign allies or our foreign enemies?"

According to Lake, the conversation at the end of the debate, the one that dealt with gender and Trump's comments about women, was where Clinton is poised to pick up support and was "energizing for turnout."

"Hillary had a lot more to lose in this debate and she won."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Idella Sturino, Willow Smith and Julian Uzielli.