Major contrasts in first debate

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By Mitch McAndrew

mmcandrew@uiowa.edu

In the first presidential debate of the 2016 cycle, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump presented sharply contrasting temperaments on the debate stage at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, yet experts interviewed by The Daily Iowan said both presidential hopefuls achieved their respective, albeit very different, goals.

“Both demonstrated quite clearly the temperament they think a president should have,” said Cary Covington, a University of Iowa political-science associate professor. “The question goes back to: What do Americans want their leader to show?”

The Democratic presidential candidate worked to come across as a diplomat by maintaining a positive tone throughout the contest, said communication studies Associate Professor David Hingstman, the director of forensics for the university’s debate team.

“She was able to take attacks from Donald Trump and be calm about them and respond with humor,” he said.

Trump, on the other hand, tried to display a more aggressive, “negotiator-in-chief” approach.

“Donald Trump is trying to change people’s perceptions about what makes a good president,” Hingstman said. “Trump would say ‘I am a negotiator,’ and a negotiator never tips his or her hand until the deal is done.”

Both experts agreed that each rhetorical technique likely did little persuade voters who remain on the fence.

“Each of them in this debate reinforced their supporters’ beliefs about them,” Hingstman said. “So if it’s true, as claimed by some reporters and pollsters, that most people have already made up their minds, then nobody probably changed their mind.”

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said in a statement released by the Trump campaign that Trump represented a welcome challenge to the status quo.

“Voters know that while [Clinton] is controlled by special interests in Washington, Donald Trump is a fresh new leader who will upend the status quo and put the American people first,” he said. “As always, Donald Trump spoke from the heart during tonight’s debate and showed us the type of president he will be.”

Andy McGuire, the head of the Iowa Democratic Party, contended that Trump played loose with the facts.

“Donald Trump continued his campaign built upon baseless claims, unfounded exaggerations and conspiracy theories,” she said in a prepared statement. “Trump proved once again tonight that he is completely unfit and unprepared to lead our country.”

Heading into the debate, polls showed a tight national race between the two major party candidates.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll out Sunday gave Clinton a 2-percentage point edge over Trump with a 4.5 percentage point margin of error. Another poll from Bloomberg, released Monday, gave Trump a 2-point lead over Clinton, with a margin of error of 3.l percentage points.

Trump is leading in swing state Iowa by 5 percentage points in a four-way race, according to the latest round of polling aggregated by Real Clear Politics.

The polls all included Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party hopeful Jill Stein.

Debate moderator Lester Holt of NBC News chose to focus on three topics, which he described as, “achieving prosperity, America’s direction, and securing America.”

Former U.S. Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, said that both candidates made progress in improving their standing with voters.

“To the credit of both of them, I suspect both of their negatives may be diminished after this debate somewhat,” he said.

Still, the best debate performance in the world would do little to make the two candidates likeable, Covington said.

“You won’t make yourself popular in one debate,” he said. “Neither candidate is going to ‘win over’ the public. It’s about casting further doubt on the qualifications of your opponent.”

EPI reporters Emily Kresse, Matthew Jack and Maria Curi contributed to this story.

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