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Saturday August 24th 2019

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First Debate Spin

By Rick Outzen

More than 80 million people watched the first presidential debate. Inweekly interviewed Rep. Gwen Graham (D-FL) and Trump campaign advisor Lee Spieckerman the day after the debate to get their takes on how their candidates performed.

“I think probably Donald Trump did a B+, I think Hillary probably a C,” said Spieckerman, who is the political commenter for Fox News and a former advisor to Newt Gingrich. “The reason I’m giving those grades is not so much the ‘win/loss,’ but what impressions did it leave with the voters when it’s all said and done.”

He said, “What I’ve got, and I think a lot of voters got it, and I think that’s why in every snap poll, except the CNN poll—which was, by their own admissions, skewed overwhelmingly to Hillary supporters and Democrats—Donald Trump winning. He came on, pardon my language, kicked her ass and took names.”

Congresswoman Gwen Graham, daughter of popular former U.S. Senator and Florida Governor Bill Graham, saw the debate very differently.

“I watched like so many others did across the country and the world,” said Rep. Graham. “I thought that Secretary Clinton proved why she would absolutely be the best choice to be the next President of the United States.”

She added, “I thought she did a fantastic job, and I was concerned that it appeared that Mr. Trump came to the debate not being fully prepared. If there’s ever a job that requires preparation, it’s the Presidency of the United States. I thought she did very well.”

Spieckerman felt that the issue wasn’t that his candidate hadn’t prepared for the debate, but that it was a new experience for Donald Trump.

“Well, I think what you were seeing is what happens when you’ve never done a one-on-one debate in your entire life,” he said. “He was probably reacting a little more than would have been ideal to some of the specific jabs. In that sense, I think maybe he can improve that in the next debate.”

He felt that Trump did better as the 90-minute debate progressed.

“I think he stayed strong. You’ve got to remember that Hillary Clinton has been poised and prepared with every conceivable attack on Donald Trump, and was just like a coiled spring with that,” Spieckerman said. “That’s a fuselage that he had to deal with. Was it perfect? Probably not perfect.

He dismissed comments that it appeared Trump “ran out of gas” towards the end of the debate or that he was rattled. He said, “I think that’s vastly overstated.”

While Trump has regularly challenged Clinton’s stamina, Graham felt it was the Republican that appeared to lose steam.

“Secretary of State Clinton has exhibited through her lengthy service that she has a lot of stamina,” she said. “I know that she hasn’t been feeling well lately. I thought she did incredibly well last night.”

The congresswoman believed the stamina attacks have another meaning. She said, “I think he’s trying to imply that she doesn’t have the strength to be the President of the United States. If there is anyone that appeared not to have the strength to make it through that debate last night, it was Mr. Trump. He, halfway through I would say, or maybe a little more than halfway, seemed to get real tired and wasn’t able to answer the questions coherently, in my opinion.”

Spieckerman felt Trump came across more human than Clinton.

“The upshot is he was unconventional, frankly. He was kind of entertaining, and fun to watch with some of these jabs,” he said. “Hillary Clinton had that plastic smile on throughout the debate, especially toward the end, which was so inauthentic. I think people saw a real live human being there in Donald Trump, and someone who’s really passionate.”

Spieckerman added, “As I said, maybe not as polished, but really passionate, really tough. I think they saw in Hillary Clinton what they already knew about her, which is she is a rehearsed, practiced, automaton politician, and just steeped in the status quo. The Secretary of the Status Quo, and that’s not the vast majority of voters want.”

He did admit that Trump missed a few opportunities, but he felt that the moderator, Lester Holt, didn’t give his candidate the right questions to do so.

“There might have been a few fumbles that he didn’t pick up and run into over the goal line, but part of it, too, is I think Donald Trump was trying to respond to the questions,” Spieckerman said. “I really find it disappointing that immigration, Obamacare, Benghazi, the emails were not brought up by Lester Holt.”

He added, “To ask Donald Trump to both answer the questions and bring up a lot of new and important issues, that’s a pretty tall order. Again, I think he might be better at that the second time around, but there were a lot of omissions on the part of the questioning that I think made it very challenging to bring some of those things up.”

Trump did bring up the emails that Secretary Clinton caught on a private server during her time in Obama Administration. Graham was pleased with how her candidate responded.

She said, “I was glad to see that she admitted that it was the wrong thing to do. I certainly had my concerns about that decision. She should not have used a private server in her responsibilities of Secretary of State, and I think she admitted that last night. It’s clear that that was a mistake and she’s apologized, and we need to move on.”

Trump did have to deal with jabs on his income tax returns, his early birther stance, and his treatment of women. Spieckerman said such attacks had been tried before but had little impact.

“I don’t think Hillary Clinton brought up one thing that people didn’t already know about Donald Trump,” he said. “Keep in mind, the very first debate he was in on Fox, Megyn Kelly made the very same comments about what he has said about women, and what happened? The man went on to win the Republican nomination with the biggest number of votes in Republican Primary history.”

Spieckerman said, “What did Hillary do? She went right back to the same thing Megyn Kelly said. It didn’t work before; I don’t think it’s going to work now.”

Graham was proud of how Clinton handled Trump’s counterpunches.

“I don’t think anyone with any solid common sense could have thought that Secretary Clinton was anything other than absolutely prepared, was steady, was able to take some punches and kind of laugh them off in some ways and respond appropriately,” she said.

Spieckerman remained positive about Donald Trump’s chances in November. “I think the key, to me, is that Donald Trump showed people he’s anti-establishment. He’s not a part of the political class; he’s not a part of the group that got us into the mess that we’re in, both at home and abroad. I saw nothing last night that would abate that trajectory, that would stop that movement toward Donald Trump.”

Graham said the first debate pointed out Trump’s temperament and focus problems.

“He just seemed to, again, wilt over the 90 minutes,” she said. “As someone like myself, who has been sitting in meetings talking about our national security and talking about important issues for our country that last far, far longer than 90 minutes. If that’s an example of his ability to focus and be someone that could be the President of the United States, I think it is he, not Secretary Clinton, that has a temperament problem.”

The next presidential debate is 8 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 9 at Washington University in St. Louis.