Entering their town hall test of charismatic calculations, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were on edge. Embarrassed by the disclosure of her Wall Street speeches, Clinton tried to show compassion without appearing fake. And facing a catastrophic campaign weekend, Trump sought to show a semblance of humility. These were my five key moments.
1. Trump’s Blue-Collar Outreach — Focused on Disenchanted Democrats
Trump attacked Clinton for her immigration and energy platforms. Alongside his anti-free trade beliefs, these three issues form the centerpiece of his anti-establishment agenda. And that agenda finds sympathy with many blue-collar American families who might otherwise be inclined to vote Democrat. But as CBS tracker polls released Sunday show, Trump is now trailing Clinton by 4 percent in Ohio, 4 percent in Wisconsin, and 8 percent in Pennsylvania. These states all have heavy blue-collar worker representation and thus are crucial targets for Trump. He must do everything possible to win those voters in order to be competitive on election night.
2. Clinton’s “He Never Apologizes” Attack — Focused on Disenchanted Republicans
Describing Trump as a candidate who disrespects Gold Star military families, immigrants and disabled Americans, Clinton reached out to Republicans as the lesser of two evils. With notable Republicans abandoning Trump’s campaign over the weekend, Clinton appealed to the notion of American unity, praising the multi-sectarian identity of the United States. Moreover, enticing Trump into repeatedly interrupting her, Clinton tried to persuade undecided Republicans that Trump is unstable. Clinton’s tough focus against Russia also exemplified her attempt to sever Trump from hawkish Republicans worried about national security. Ultimately, she hopes to persuade Republicans to either stay home or to vote for her. Expect Clinton to push this unity platform before the election.
3. Taxes, De-Regulation, Cronyism — Focused on Independents
Trump’s most confident moment came when he attacked Clinton on taxes and the economy. His bombastic confidence serves him well here in that it plays to the perceptions of most Americans that the tax system is intellectually ludicrous and economically unfair. While Clinton was aggressive in her riposte to Trump, his specific commentary on the carried interest deduction and his portrayal of Clinton as a servant of corporate special interests will play well. That’s because Trump earns a smile from most Americans for admitting that it is in his business interest to take advantage of all legal loopholes.
4. Supreme Court Question — Focused on Disenchanted Republicans
Clinton’s answer to the Supreme Court question gave Trump his best opportunity of the night. Clinton’s articulated positions on campaign finance and judicial interpretation are antithetical to the views of most Republicans, including those Republicans who strongly dislike Trump. As such, Trump’s comparative answer on the Supreme Court — promising justices who will defend constitutional originalism — may persuade disenchanted Republicans to vote for him.
5. The Inadequacy of the Two Candidates — A Concern for all Americans
Throughout the debate, inscribed on the walls behind the two candidates was the Declaration of Independence. Those beautiful words — the product of centuries of philosophy and aspiration, and a war for freedom — are the fuel of American exceptionalism. Sadly, throughout the debate, in style, substance, and ambition, each of the candidates showed their inadequacy to those fine values. Each was full of rancor and disdain; their final answers in praise of each other were perhaps the only exceptions. There is no doubt that the country will survive the next president, but it is still sad that these two are the candidates now standing on the final stage. We could have picked better. And we should have done so.
Tom Rogan is a foreign policy columnist for National Review, a domestic policy columnist for Opportunity Lives, a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter @TomRtweets.