UM analyst: Trump’s sniffle cost him in debate

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Hempstead, N.Y. — Donald Trump’s sniffle throughout the presidential debate was “distracting” and added to an appearance that he was “unprepared” to take on seasoned debater Hillary Clinton, a University of Michigan debate analyst said late Monday.

The 70-year-old Republican businessman’s sniffing through his nose was pronounced throughout the first debate at Hofstra University and may be the one thing voters remember about it, said Aaron Kall, director of debate at UM-Ann Arbor.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump answers a question during the presidential debate with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on Monday at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

“It was very distracting,” said Kall, who watched the debate in a massive media center adjacent to the debate hall. “It’s not the right time to not be at 100 percent when the stakes are so high, and it hurt him.”

Democratic former Secretary of State Clinton looked more prepared, Kall said, countering recent doubts Trump has cast about the 68-year-old’s stamina to be the nation’s commander-in-chief.

“She looked like she could go another two debates at the end, and he looked like if this debate went another half hour that he might not make it,” he said. “It’s just so ironic that (during) his attack on the stamina that he looked totally unprepared to be there to speak for that much time, to always be on. And she seemed strong as the debate went on.”

In a campaign that has dominated the airwaves for months, political pundits and surrogates for the Clinton and Trump campaign focused on the candidates’ style and how they appeared during the 90-minute slug fest.

“Hillary came across as scripted, as robotic, as cold and Donald Trump didn’t,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a senior adviser to Trump’s campaign and daughter of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. “I think she showed that she’s a career politician that has a record of failure — and that contrast is pretty stark to the American people.”

Prior to the debate, the Trump campaign mocked Clinton’s extensive preparation for the match-up. At one point during the debate, Clinton defended her decision to leave the campaign trail for a few days as example of how she’s more prepared to be president than he is.

“She spent a lot of time preparing, and I think it was well worth it,” said Jennifer Palmieri, communications director for the Clinton campaign.

Lena Epstein, co-chair of Trump’s Michigan Campaign, attended the debate as her candidate’s guest and disputed any contention that Trump was ill prepared for his first one-on-one debate as a presidential candidate.

“I thought that he acted presidential,” Epstein said. “I do think Mr. Trump was prepared.”

Democratic strategists were smarting about Trump’s retort to Clinton’s contention that he “rooted for the housing crisis” before the 2008 mortgage foreclosure crisis that forced millions from their homes.

“That’s called business,” Trump said.

David Plouffe, the Democratic consultant who managed Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, called Trump’s comments “an embarrassment of riches.”

“That’s business?” Plouffe said. “Basically it’s smart that I don’t pay any taxes even though I make $679 million, or whatever he said. Yeah, those are important moments.”

Epstein, co-owner of the Southfield-based Vesco Oil Corp., said Trump was speaking truthfully about the reality that someone profits when a housing bubble bursts.

“I don’t fault Mr. Trump for that,” she said after the debate. “She was just waiting to pounce.”

Boris Epshteyn, another senior adviser to the Trump campaign, also defended his candidate’s comments in a post-debate interview.

“What he was saying, what his comments meant was that, you know, when there’s an opportunity to buy low, then that’s what you do, because then you sell high,” Epshteyn told The Detroit News. “He didn’t profit off of it. Actually, he revitalized cities by buying properties, like he did with the Commodore hotel back in the ’70s. When you take over a failing entity and you raise it up, you bring jobs.”

Plouffe said Trump fell for Clinton’s bait and suggested the sound bite will be replayed in television ads this fall.

“He’s more interested in defending his record then he is in winning the presidency,” Plouffe told reporters. “So it’s not hard to get him to kind of be defensive.”

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood