Monday night’s presidential debate between Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was almost certainly a smashing success in terms of TV ratings. If the social-media response is any indication, both candidates had more than their fair share of memorable moments.
Let’s go to the Twitter roundup!
Before the debate:
Ok I’ve decided I’m live tweeting the debates!! I will not know what the fuck I’m looking at but hell its got to be fun!!
— Leslie Jones (@Lesdoggg) September 27, 2016
did she really just announce no phones during #TheDebate? how will people tweet?
— Franchesca Ramsey (@chescaleigh) September 27, 2016
These two observations were brought to us prior to the debate by comedians Leslie Jones and Franchesca Ramsey. The latter’s quip is particularly well-taken, considering that social media was set afire with debate talk long before the event itself actually started.
Clinton’s controversial fashion choice:
I hope clinton’s outfit is made out of donald trump’s red ties that she ordered from his factories in China #Debates
— RAFAEL CASAL (@RafaelCasal) September 27, 2016
Red, cause she’s coming for blood #Debates
— Dr. NoRubber (@BmoreNigerian) September 27, 2016
Let’s be honest: The first thing most of us noticed when Clinton and Trump took the stage was Clinton’s red pantsuit. It was a visually arresting choice that you could either love or hate, but was impossible to ignore.
Trump has the sniffles:
Trump’s sniffling is really noticeable. #debates
— Christina Wilkie (@christinawilkie) September 27, 2016
Trump’s new nickname is “Sniffles,” #Debates2016
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) September 27, 2016
— Jeffrey Jon Smith (@jeffreyjonsmith) September 27, 2016
By contrast, no one seemed thrilled with Trump’s sniffling. Indeed, “sniffles” began trending on Twitter shortly after Trump’s first snort. And in light of the ongoing hubbub over Clinton’s health concerns, the timing couldn’t have been worse for the Republican nominee. As one of the above tweeters correctly pointed out, if you’re a presidential candidate, it isn’t a good sign when the first hashtag out of a presidential debate involves one of your physical tics.
Trumped-up trickle-down economics:
— Dave Phoenix Farrell (@phoenixlp) September 27, 2016
“Trumped-up trickle down” was dumb. #debates
— Eric Geller (@ericgeller) September 27, 2016
“Trumped Up Trickle Down” didn’t work the first time I said, but maybe I’ll try one more time. – Hillary #debates
— Funny Or Die (@funnyordie) September 27, 2016
On the other hand, Clinton’s attempt to make “Trumped-up trickle-down” economics into a catchphrase met with mixed success. Certainly the quip left a strong impression, but the consensus seems to be that it felt forced. Notice how FunnyOrDie tweeted about the comment 20 minutes after the other two tweets; it was still in the ether and still proved to be at best partially effective.
NAFTA, not good:
Trump takes over – your husband signed NAFTA — the worst trade deal maybe signed anywhere.
— Katty Kay (@KattyKayBBC) September 27, 2016
The economists are shrieking right now, but Trump forcing Hillary to defend NAFTA is a bad look for her and good for him.
— Jeff B/DDHQ (@EsotericCD) September 27, 2016
Trump scores on “you haven’t done it in 30 years” and NAFTA and TPP. She’s losing right now.
— Cenk Uygur (@cenkuygur) September 27, 2016
There seemed to be a broad consensus that Trump had Clinton on the ropes when he brought up the North American Free Trade Agreement. Even the normally leftist Cenk Uygur (of “The Young Turks” fame) pointed out that “she’s losing right now” when Trump held her feet to the fire on this issue. If you were a Clinton supporter, this was a wince-inducing moment and Twitter definitely picked up on that.
Trump was against global warming before he was for it (or something):
— Jordan (@jordansdiamonds) September 27, 2016
— Rachel Richardson (@rsquared1) September 27, 2016
When Clinton called on social media posters to fact-check her opponent, they rose to the occasion, starting with multiple well-placed sources responding to Trump’s denial that he once claimed global warming was a hoax created by the Chinese.
Oh, and about crime in New York City:
— Jordan Hoffner (@jhoffner) September 27, 2016
Salon’s CEO (full disclosure!) offered this information about Trump’s apocalyptic pronouncements regarding New York crime rates, which have trended broadly downward for 25 years, across the tenures of multiple mayors and various policing strategies.
Lester Holt, not so much:
I’m so old I remember when this debate had a moderator. #debates
— Heidi N Moore (@moorehn) September 27, 2016
Someone should check on Lester Holt. #Debates
— Chelsea Handler (@chelseahandler) September 27, 2016
— Scott Nover (@ScottNover) September 27, 2016
Lester Holt’s performance as debate moderator did not receive glowing reviews on social media — to put it mildly! The bulk of the tweets that mentioned Holt seemed disappointed at his hands-off approach, implying that he was barely there at all to maintain order amid the interrupting and shouting. It brings to mind similar criticisms made of Jim Lehrer after he hosted the first Barack Obama-Mitt Romney debate in 2012.
Maybe Trump paid taxes! Who knows?
An audit doesn’t stop you for releasing your tax returns #Debates
— Adrian Alvarez (@Raynor1337) September 27, 2016
Under audit for 15 years??? Means you’re not doing something right. #Debates
— Todd Norden (@njnordo) September 27, 2016
Is getting audited every year something to be proud of? #debates
— Ashley Sinha (@atsinha) September 27, 2016
This was not the first time Trump has cited his current IRS audit as a defense for not releasing his tax returns, and naturally people jumped all over this on Twitter. That said, Trump also gave them something novel on which to focus — namely, his offhand reference to having been under audit for 15 years. Perhaps it wasn’t the smartest thing for him to brag about.
Forget the tax returns! What about your emails?
— Bob Herzog (@Bob_Herzog) September 27, 2016
hi I’m Hilliary Clinton and I’m going to talk about trump hiding his tax returns when I hid 33,000 emails huhhhhhhhh
— Aus (@austin_d17) September 27, 2016
“I’ll release my tax returns when you release your 33,000 deleted emails” pic.twitter.com/CmRqhIHtP7
— Justin Woods (@JustinWoods13) September 27, 2016
Trump’s best moment, at least for his fans, might have come when he called out Clinton for allegedly deleting 33,000 emails, and the seismic response certainly registered on Twitter. One may agree or disagree with the soundness of his analogy, but it certainly underscored the fact that both candidates have serious issues with their trustworthiness. Clinton did not benefit when Trump reminded the American people of this.
So there were bills that didn’t get paid — sue me!
Trump not denying stiffing contractors and paying zero income taxes is going to leave a mark.
— John Avlon (@JohnAvlon) September 27, 2016
Trump offers effectively no response to indictment that he stiffed contractors
— Jonathan Martin (@jmartNYT) September 27, 2016
Trump: sure I screwed contractors and I pay no taxes but I recently built this nice building.
— CJ Werleman (@cjwerleman) September 27, 2016
To paraphrase Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this was the proverbial dog that didn’t bark. For most other presidential candidates (particularly self-proclaimed billionaires), it would be toxic to admit that you refused to pay working-class Americans who served in your employ. Trump, on the other hand, breezed right through the question, a fact that didn’t elude some of Twitter’s more perceptive observers.
Born in the USA, at last:
Birther-in-chief just got a question. #debatenight
— Adam Parkhomenko (@AdamParkhomenko) September 27, 2016
This is the best Trump could do on a totally predictable birther question? that’s just bad prep. but also, not much to work with
— Sam Stein (@samsteinhp) September 27, 2016
— Deplorable Melissa (@sweetatertot2) September 27, 2016
Naturally, it’s most fitting to close on the topic that burned through Twitter during the final portion of the debate — namely, Trump’s past role in spreading birther conspiracy theories about Barack Obama (who was born in Honolulu in 1961, just for the record). While the tweeters’ stance on the subject was pretty much predetermined by whether they already supported Trump, they all seemed to agree that it dominated discussion as soon as it came up.
What’s the overall verdict? On a first reading of social media, it seems that more of the focus was on Trump’s bugaboos (notably his long history of wild allegations and looseness with the facts) and his respiratory difficulties than on Clinton’s baggage, although the latter hardly escaped attention. It remains to be seen whether this will work for or against Trump, but once again this debate kept the spotlight shining directly on him rather than his opponent.