By Michael Lashley
The sparring match that took place on Monday night between Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton and her Republican Party counterpart Donald Trump was a play proceeding at two speeds.
At some times, the debaters were politely presidential and, at others, they went into a free-for-all wrestling match.
I was taken aback and lulled by the tone in the “first half” of the battle. It was too friendly for comfort.
Trump was not his overly bombastic self. He did raise some of his usual subjects- the dangers of immigration, the loss of jobs to foreign countries and Clinton’s e-mail issues.
But it was quite an experience to see him in front of millions of TV viewers, without hearing him shout out his regular flood of outrageous and provocative statements, claims and insults directed at illegal immigrants and Muslims terrorists.
Similarly, Clinton’s attacks and counter-attacks against Trump were at times firm but not virulent. She was rather subdued about her e-mail challenges (she apologized and took responsibility for it) and her flip-flop in free trade agreements.
But all that was façade, the calm before the storm.
Was it just an opportunity that they consciously chose to size up each other’s strategy and readiness for the serious debate when all gloves would be off?
Was it an opportunity which they used to road-test their own readiness for the full-frontal debate to come?
By the time the “second half” was launched, the two presidential hopefuls were at each other’s throats.
On the creation of jobs, the stimulation of the economy and the loss of jobs to low-wage countries, Clinton boasted of her written detailed plans that were available online.
In response, Trump struggled to respond to her specifics and to the prodding questions of the moderator on his strategy to bring back the lost jobs and stop any further outflow.
On race issues, both candidates pointed to each other’s unflattering previous statements, though, of course, Trump’s record in promoting race relations is less than stellar. Neither of the two brought any new or improved strategy.
On the issue of crime, Trump came dangerously close to making a direct link between race and crime. Saying that gangs have guns and that many gang members are immigrants was not his best option for winning the votes of African-Americans and non-white immigrants.
He could not follow Clinton on the road to greater regulation of the firearm industry.
Then he had no answer that would endear him to taxpaying voters when she went for his jugular on his refusal to release his tax filings. She skillfully speculated on what he might be hiding about his true financial situation. She hinted that, in addition to being a tax avoider, he was also likely to be an unsuccessful and insolvent businessman.
Later in the debate, it was quite a sight to see Trump outfoxed by Clinton as she hammered home his abusive and sexist attitude towards women. He seemed genuinely surprised when Clinton cited chapter and verse the details of his treatment of a particular beauty queen, a winner of the Miss Universe pageant for which Trump owns the franchise.
That issue of preparation versus improvisation is the major lesson that Mr. Trump needs to learn from this first debate.
In the broader scheme of things, at the end of the debate, one is left to wonder whether Trump is suitable and prepared for the presidency of the USA.
Mark Round One for Hillary Clinton.