Finley: Clinton wins debate, voters still lose

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

If the goal of the presidential combatants in Monday night’s debate was to improve their dismal unfavorability ratings, they both lost.

All the face-off at Hofstra University did was to confirm why American voters dislike them so much. They just weren’t fun to watch.

Start with Republican Donald Trump. The candidate who used the Republican primary debates to destroy some of the GOP’s brightest lights was a hot mess. Rambling and at times incoherent, Trump spent nearly the entire 90 minutes dancing to Clinton’s tune, answering her non-stop allegations instead of shaping his own message and his own attacks.

Clinton, Trump engage in bruising debate

Fact check: Clinton, Trump off mark on Iran deal

She kept him on the defensive with jab after jab. He took every piece of bait she dangled and let her get into his head.

His constant interruptions made him seem rattled. He was clearly unprepared. Maybe next time he won’t blow off debate prep.

Trump missed repeated opportunities to take the fight to her. For example, when she accused him of encouraging Russia to hack State Department emails, he failed to note her reckless use of a private email server while she ran the department made that dirty job so much easier.

The carefully scripted Clinton destroyed him on substance. Trump lacked depth, rambled in his answers and jumped from topic to topic within a single question. It was often hard to figure out what he was talking about.

Trump should have kept his answers succinct, ignored her cheap shots and exploited the openings Clinton did leave him. But he didn’t seem at all to be thinking on his feet.

His mission was to look presidential. He failed.

Clinton had a command of the issues, when she got around to talking about them. She spent the bulk of her time bashing Trump, just as she does on the campaign trail.

But that wasn’t her mission. Trump’s numbers aren’t moving up or down. His solid core of support stays with him no matter what.

Takeaways: Clinton gets under Trump’s skin in debate

Donald Trump set to visit Novi on Friday

Clinton needed this debate to move her own numbers up by calming voter concerns about her character and trustworthiness, the factors taking her numbers down over the past few weeks.

Condescending bemusement was not the right tone for the task.

She won the debate, but may not have won over many voters. She had a chance to capture some Trump-leaning independents, but she came off disrespectful not only of her opponent, but of the debate itself. She behaved as if the whole thing was beneath her. So the sense was more that Trump lost than that she won.

Moderator Lester Holt, who was pressured by the Clinton camp to fact-check Trump, complied, saving all his tough questions for Trump while giving her a pass. He never asked her directly about her emails, and didn’t ask at all about the pay-to-play culture at the State Department or the conflicts with the Clinton Foundation.

This debate was billed as an epic battle. It was far from that. It was often embarrassing to watch.

But on the scale, it was Clinton’s night. For those Republicans who for months have been salivating about the prospect of their man being on a debate stage with Clinton, they found out last night that he doesn’t really belong there.

Macomb Co. Republicans cheer Trump at watch party

Clinton ‘absolutely positively spot-on,’ Dems say