Let’s Talk About…The First Presidential Debate

For me, the first presidential debate felt more like an intimate roasting session between the two candidates instead of  an actual debate. There were so many more memorable zinger moments than there was substantive discussion about policies and leadership.

In terms of poise, eloquence and preparedness, Hillary definitely took gold. But that doesn’t really come as any surprise, considering who her opponent is. In terms of semi-effective lying, stubborn ability to admit no fault and endorsement of racist ideals, Trump is definitely a winner.

His “say anything” attitude led to several eye-rolling moments, including when he said, “[America’s]  airports are like from a third-world country,”  as well as when he advocated stop-and-frisk policing tactics, even after moderator Lester Holt reminded Trump that such policies had been deemed unconstitutional on the grounds of racial discrimination.

In the same vein, the debate was an easy place for Clinton’s past transgressions to come to light once again (including the extended interval of discussion on her email scandal). Still, the stricter structure of the debate allowed Clinton to display her best attributes as a candidate: knowledge, experience and control.

The comparison is almost laughable in a sense. For every time Trump stumbled on a word, Clinton is framed right next to him with a tight-lipped smile painted onto her face.

This battle was already set up for her to win. Up against someone who has no previous experience in politics or government, Trump was no match.

Still, it’s hard not to feel like the options for this year’s presidential election are anything but bleak. It’s the crook versus the crooked businessman. No matter who won the debate, it’s clear to me that the true losers of the this election  are the American people.

Ashley Duong is a second-year literary journalism  and philosophy double major. She can be reached at alduong1@uci.edu.


Let’s be blunt. You and I likely didn’t watch the debate to figure out who we would vote for.

Nonetheless, tens of millions of unswayable voters tuned in to watch live. Was their intent to stay informed? To cheer on their candidate? To sadomasochistically watch the country collapse?

Maybe to see what crazy thing Trump would say next?

I’m not the first to compare our modern televised election process to a reality game show, but it’s especially fitting in this election. The nation tunes in for the spectacle, news organizations are incentivized by viewership numbers and the candidates compete to be more memorable and likable than the rest.  And, in the end, there can be only one winner.

Monday’s debate, however, was a welcome exception to the game show metaphor, and we have moderator Lester Holt and NBC’s debate structure to thank.

Holt avoided gotcha-style questions and opted for those that would be informative to uncommitted swing state voters.  He also stayed mostly out of the way, only fact-checking when Trump objected to the premises of questions. NBC’s request for the live audience to stay quiet during the debate allowed the nation a more direct view of the candidates’ policies and personalities. For ninety minutes, we were reminded that the presidency isn’t primarily about how well one plays to a crowd — the job demands prolonged high-level discussion of policy and the ability to remain composed under pressure.

This debate was a gentle nudge from NBC and Holt to shift the culture of America’s elections away from that of a game show and toward what it needs to be: a serious, national conversation about the direction of our nation and who is most capable of leading us that way. We should see that future debates adopt and build upon their example.

If this debate had continued the primary debates’ mistake of valuing spectacle over substance, then Trump, armed with his brazen personality and experience on reality TV, might’ve had an inherent advantage. Instead, his spats with Lester Holt and perpetual attempts to interrupt Clinton were seen for what they were: boorish and amateur. The seriousness of the debate turned Monday night into an exhibition of Hillary’s legislative fluency and experience as a civil servant.

In the language of game shows, Clinton won the debate. But what’s important is that she won for the right reasons.
Matthew Downing is a third-year software engineering major. He can be reached at mwdownin@uci.edu.


Like the rest of the world, I sat with bated breath during Monday night’s presidential debate. From the awkward attempts at humor to the virtually nonexistent moderator, it certainly was a spectacle. Despite the general uneasy acceptance of Clinton’s win, Trump was not the loser.

In an election characterized by embarrassing gaffes, thoughtless comments and general wildness, a debate where Trump avoided personal attacks and remained mostly respectful was a huge success for him. Trump was at his best when he was appealing to the public distrust of Clinton’s judgment, which he did effectively for the first half of the debate. It was only when Clinton brought up more personal attacks about Trump’s business and questionable history with women and employees that Trump’s composure wilted. He began to spend more time on his own defense than the issues. Clinton’s play into Trump’s ego was a carefully crafted strategy that forced Trump out of focus.

In terms of fact-checking, the notion that voters who are truly interested in objective accountability would go to Clinton’s website like she suggested is laughable. The WikiLeaks Twitter account was actively tweeting fact-checks throughout the debate, siding with both candidates on different issues. Trump was strongest when discussing how Clinton’s actions as Secretary of State largely contributed to the destruction of Libya. Clinton also struggled to highlight her accomplishments as Secretary of State when pressured. However, as the debate continued, Trump’s mismanagement of his time severely decreased the momentum he had gained in the first half of the debate.

Despite his “loss,” he didn’t do nearly as badly as he could have. The only “got-you” headline that came out after the debate pointed out that he was sniffling too much, which the debate commission later confirmed was due to a microphone malfunction.  

All this being said, it is quite sad to think that of the 318.9 million people in America, our options have been narrowed down to these two candidates. As November inches closer, voters should examine what is important to them and assess which candidate best represents them, independent of party alliances and bias.


Caitlin Antonios is a second-year english and literary journalism double major. She can be reached at cfantoni@uci.edu.


Who won this debate? No one. This long-awaited match between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was a bit disappointing.

What did we learn? Not so much.

Instead of proposing concrete solutions, the candidates argued like children. They talked about Clinton’s emails, Trump’s sexism, Clinton’s supposed lack of stamina and Trump’s refusal to reveal his tax information. It seemed like the goal was more to destroy one another than promote themselves.

For example, according to Trump, the country’s current problems are due to Secretary Clinton.

“We need new roads, new tunnels, new bridges, new airports, new schools, new hospitals. And we don’t have the money, because it’s been squandered on so many of your ideas,” he accused. To this, Clinton interrupted with, “And maybe because you haven’t paid any federal income tax for a lot of years.”

Even if we have two losers after this debate, Clinton showed herself to be surprisingly skilled at this fighting-back game. At least the audience  vocally supported her.

Clinton also proved her steadfast composure. While Trump started yelling and losing his nerve, she kept her calm with a satisfied smile. In this aspect, she definitely won. This could explain the result of the last CNN poll, where 62 percent of the voters who watched the debate considered Clinton the winner, while only 27 percent of them preferred Trump’s performance.

But as an exchange student, Donald Trump appeared to be much more logical and saner than I thought he was. If he is seen as unpresidential in France, it is definitely not the case in United States.

Amélie Petitdemange is a fourth-year literary journalism major. She can be reached at apetitde@uci.edu.