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Friday, April 23, 2021

Four things we learned from the first presidential debate

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Related Story Democrats Say Trump’s Camp Will Still Pull Biggest Debit at Debate “Trump is the great American con man,” said Robert Shrum, a former top strategist for Al Gore’s 1988 presidential campaign. “He makes us believe that he’s giving us a different idea.” “The problem is, the problem people saw in Trump is very much in their mind’s eye,” Shrum said. “It’s not a matter of starting from scratch. It’s a matter of a gap between what they know, because it really hurts their brain, and what they believe.” CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Fox News’s Chris Wallace repeatedly questioned Trump during the 90-minute debate. And while Trump rarely deviated from his stump speech, he also dutifully repeated his standard attack lines. He described Clinton as dishonest, a lobbyist and a corrupt public servant. He praised himself as a better negotiating negotiator than Clinton — and then questioned the FBI’s decision to reopen its investigation into her emails even after announcing it had closed it just over a year earlier. And he frequently attacked journalists as dishonest — and never hesitated to name names. Trump told Cooper and Wallace that he was simply “protecting our country” from Clinton, who he suggested could not be trusted with the nuclear codes. “That’s not my problem with Hillary Clinton,” Trump said. “The problem is with her judgment, her judgment, her judgment, her judgment.” “There is a concern,” Cooper said after Trump wrapped up his riff. “The president said in Afghanistan, she would put us in great danger. That was the opening question. And he hesitated to even respond to that.” “It’s not that he’s going to be bashful,” Giuliani said later in the spin room. “What he’s got to do is identify issues. And like I said, and he knows, you’re not going to trust Hillary Clinton. That’s just very self-evident. If you say, well, wait a minute, she’s going to make a mistake that puts our country at risk, then you got to be careful with words. You’ve got to be careful with phrases.” “But he’s not going to change,” Giuliani continued. “He just has to keep explaining it.”

“He can’t avoid talking about it,” Shrum countered. “He can’t attack Hillary Clinton for being dishonest. He’s got to explain why he says things that hurt him or hurt his family. That’s very legitimate. He can’t miss an opportunity.” As early as this past February, Hillary Clinton had made clear her displeasure with Trump’s penchant for vagueness. In a video released at the time, Clinton declared: “Donald Trump just can’t seem to say what he believes in any straightforward way.” That, of course, remains his greatest vulnerability — and that’s an undercurrent of this campaign that persists even as his numbers rise. Until Friday morning, Clinton was the one struggling to answer questions about the e-mail investigation, and was criticized by aides and surrogates. As of Thursday night, Trump’s performance was widely viewed as more convincing, less comfortable, less robotic. Clinton’s team was forced to fret over how she would handle Trump’s sudden attack on her stamina. And while Trump lashed out repeatedly at her medical record, his team argued that she had actually jumped around from town to town during the 3½ hour debate. “He lied.” “At every turn, when she comes across as a bumbling, incompetent, somewhat rattled phony — he goes after her credibility,” Giuliani said. “That’s in her favor.”

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