Column: Trump stumbles in debate while Clinton keeps her cool on stage

Practical Idealism: Seeking a balance between what can be done and what should be done in the political landscape today

Dylan Bryant

Dylan Bryant, Reporter

I spent all four years of my high school career immersed in the world of forensics, also known as speech and debate. Every day I would write or research, every week we would practice, every other weekend we would compete.

I say this because I, as well as thousands of students who dedicated the same amount of blood, sweat, and tears as I did to this event, can tell you what a debate should look and sound like. I can tell you if a response to an argument is even a correctly formed argument.

Which is why I knew Donald Trump was not a debater. I knew he could not form a logical, coherent argument in response to someone else’s in real time. I knew what he was doing – and to his great advantage – was not debating.

The evening began with 20 to 30 minutes of what seemed to impress most. The expectations for Trump going into the debate were low. While Secretary Clinton had to take up the challenge of appearing warm, honest, open, and not overly sarcastic, Trump, as Stephen Colbert put it, had to “not commit murder… on camera.” And it perhaps was these expectations that made those first thirty minutes play to Trump’s advantage.

It also helped that this time was dedicated to his strongest policy focus – jobs, trade, business. He seemed most comfortable speaking on these issues and his attacks on Clinton stuck best during this time of the debate. In fact, it was during this time that he was actually debating, breaking down Clintons arguments and detailing his own. His strongest moment of the debate by far, when he stated that he would release his tax returns when and if Mrs. Clinton released the 30,000 deleted e-mails he so often references, was brought up once and never mentioned again.

But it was also around this time that Secretary Clinton began to get under Trump’s skin. And once she was there, she would find herself a cozy spot and stay there the rest of the debate. Defending himself is very much part of Donald Trump’s identity, and he will do so at every opportunity. During the Republican debates, he began doing so almost immediately. But this time it took a while. We saw for a brief moment the Trump his campaign so desperately wishes he would become.

Then he went on the defensive, and in doing so, completely stopped the actual debating he was doing.

Whether it was paying no income tax, not releasing tax returns, or birtherism, every time Hillary Clinton dangled out a piece of meat, Trump took the bait, and tripped and stumbled over himself in doing so.

In contrast, Clinton showed restraint when her e-mail controversy was brought up by her opponent, conceding her fault in the ordeal and moving on.

While he was entirely occupied in defending his record, she brushed off his attacks, and attempted to present a vision for the country. In terms of actual rebuttals, Clinton was the only one to provide coherent arguments and she came out on top of every issue.

Trumps behavior in the debate also spoke highly of his performance. He constantly interrupted Clinton, reaching towards his microphone to spout “Wrong” in response to Clinton’s remarks on several occasion. He seemed nervous, tense, and unprepared. She, on the other hand, seemed relaxed, smiling, she was enjoying herself.

This is why most polls have showed Clinton coming out on top. She was the only one actually debating, refuting her opponents view of the world, and presenting her own, the best she could. He did what he always does, defended his reputation, spewed hyperbole, and in this instance failed to pin solid attacks on Secretary Clinton – something fairly easy to do for Trump usually.

And when it comes to the checking the facts, something pundits have stressed the importance of this election cycle after failing to fact-check Trump throughout the primary season, Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star reported that Trump made 34 false claims during the debate, ranging from statements denying that he said “pregnancy is a inconvenience to business” when he did so in an interview, to denying that he said the Chinese invented global warming, when he tweeted it and the tweet still exists, to stating that Clinton has been fighting ISIS her entire adult life when Clinton is 50 years older than the organization.

Clinton, on the other hand, made 4 false claims during the debate.

Perhaps the most important moment of the night came when Donald Trump claimed his most valuable asset is his temperament. The audience audibly laughed at this assertion, having just spent an hour watching him fail to restrain himself, and perhaps then realized that the joke is on them.