Roger’s Rules

Who won the First Debate?

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, walks to shake hands with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton before the first presidential debate at Hofstra University, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Hempstead, N.Y. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Bottom line? It was a draw. Trump was, to put it charitably, unimpressive. He had two tasks. He had appear competent and mature. And he had to lay out his plan for American while countering Hillary.

I thought he got fair to middling grades on the first but barely scraped by on the second. She is, on the evidence of last night’s performance,  a better debater, more focused, more articulate. The fact that she actually prepared helped her, of course, just as Trump’s  lack of preparation hurt him.

He had a maddening tendency to talk around a questions. For example, when, early on in the debate there was a question about how to bring businesses and capital back to America, he should have touted in the strongest terms his proprosal to reduce the corporate tax rate to 15%, the same rate as many of our competitors. The current 35% percent rate (or whatever it is) is a big incentive for companies to leave their money parked offshore. He also should have gone on the attack about Hillary’s tax plan: she says it’s “tax the wealthy.” But really it is  higher taxes for almost everyone who pays taxes, which funnels more money into the wasting maw of Washington. Plus there is her proposal of a confiscatory 65% estate tax: Trump wants to abolish that altogether. You’ve worked hard and saved and paid taxes, why should the government come and rob the grave when you are dead, preventing you from disposing of your wealth as you see fit?

Unfortunately, he only sidled up to these points. Similarly, when Hillary spoke disparagingly of “Trumpian trickle-down” economics, he ought to have seized the initiative and said,

“You’re too kind, Hillary. You know how much I like to see my name on things, and I would be proud to be identified as the author of trickle- down economics. But that palm must go to Ronald Reagan and his team, whose tax cuts, regulatory sanity, and growth-oriented policies launched the greatest creation of wealth in human history. Among the conspicuous beneficiaries of that magnificent period of growth was your husband, who sailed into office with the economy buzzing along. By contrast, Obama is the only president in history to have gone two terms without a single quarter of 3% percent growth. The latest figures show the most recent period coming in at an anemic 1.8%. Why has this happened? Because his elitist socialism, like yours, wants to concentrate as much power and money and initiative in the hands of the federal government as possible. It is a prescription for stagnation, and stagnation is exactly what we’ve seen.”

I’m not sure what he should have said when Hillary brought up his uncouth language about women. Maybe it would have worked for him to say, “Hey, I am not a politically correct guy. I have said lots of things that people don’t like, some of which I regret. But where I called Rosie O’Donnell a pig, your husband treated countless women as sexual chattel, and you stood by, indeed, you actively enabled it because your ambition was stronger than your virtue.” (Not sure how that would go over.)

Overall, I thought Trump was not as prepared as he should have been and his responses lacked focus. Hillary, by contrast, seemed confident, well prepared, and generally articulate in her mendacity. That smile really got to me, though. I thought of Hamlet. “One may smile and smile, and be a villain. At least I’m sure it may be so in Washington.” (I have a special edition of the play.)