Notes From New York: Hillary Nailed It…But The Night Was Still All About Trump

​She slays, but he's a beast of some significance

By Lauren Water​man

In the lead-up to the first-ever debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, much was made of an alleged difference in the heights of their two podiums, as captured in a behind-the-scenes photograph tweeted on September 25 by a radio and TV journalist named Rita Cosby.


"Clearly one is TALLER!" she noted excitedly. 


It proved to be an irresistible detail, which isn't surprising given how discussions of size dominated the Republican primaries. 

Bizarrely, though, most of the news organisations that reported on the non-story seemed to take it for granted that the larger lectern had been built for the former Secretary of State, who stands 5-foot-4, rather than the reality star, who's 6-foot-2, as though standing behind a bigger podium wouldn't make her look even smaller by comparison. 

Then again, perhaps their mistake is understandable; after all, Clinton has consistently had to clear a much higher bar than Trump just to keep up, at least according to some pundits. 

And last night was no different: In addition to demonstrating the intelligence, experience, and political skill befitting a candidate for the highest office in the United States—attributes which her opponent seems to lack—she also had to remain composed, even unbothered, in the face of his blustering (and frequently absurd) attacks, lest she remind white male voters of their "bitchy wife/mother," as one unnamed GOP congressman apparently complained mid-debate. 

All Trump had to do, conventional wisdom had it, was appear "presidential," which, for him, translated to "not insane." 

Well, she succeeded, for the most part, and he failed. Nevertheless, it is his out-there behavior that is likely to dominate the headlines. These were a few of the highlights: 

He Bragged About Paying Very Little In Income Taxes 

Trump once again doubled down on his claim that he couldn't release his federal tax returns due to "a routine audit," but when Clinton suggested that he was hiding something "really important, even terrible," such as a shockingly low effective tax rate, he didn't dispute it. "That makes me smart," he said. 


He Plugged His New Hotel

When Clinton attacked Trump's business credentials by pointing out his willingness to stiff contractors and other employees, he didn't so much as refute her characterization as maintain that his way of doing business gets results. 

"We're opening the old post office [in Washington, D.C.] under budget, ahead of schedule…and that's what this country should be doing," he said. 

"We're just opening up on Pennsylvania Avenue, right next to the White House, so if I don't get there one way, I'll get there another." 

She Spoke, Albeit Indirectly, About #BlackLivesMatter

Asked, by moderator Lester Holt, whether she thinks that U.S. police forces are dealing with an "implicit bias" against African-Americans, Clinton said, "I think implicit bias is a problem for everyone. I think, unfortunately, too many of us …jump to conclusions about each other." 

(Certainly Trump does: In the same exchange, he said that urban people of color "are living in hell because it's so dangerous," and called for a return to the unconstitutional stop-and-frisk method of policing. He also, oddly, demonstrated his supposed affinity for a couple of different cities that are currently sites of police violence and protest by saying, "I have property [there].")

She Shook Off His Attacks 

Clinton soared in debate's final moments, when she used Trump's clearly gendered claim that she lacked the necessary "stamina" to be president—itself intended to be a softening of earlier comments he'd made about her lacking a "presidential look"—as an opportunity to bring up the many, many awful things he's said about women over the years (also highlighted in a recent ad). 

When he claimed that it was he, not she, who had the temperament necessary for the office, she (and some in the crowd) laughed. "Whoo, okay," she replied. In the debate's final moments, both candidates were asked whether they would accept the results, in the event of a loss. 

And while Trump used his last two minutes to rant about "eight hundred people…we were going to deport," who instead, "perhaps [because someone] pressed the wrong button…ended up becoming citizens," Hillary spoke directly to the undecided or simply unenthused voters whom she'll need to convince if she's going to win. 

"This election is up to you," she said. "Vote as though your future depended on it." 

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