Hempstead, US – For most of Monday people wondered which Donald Trump would turn up to the first presidential debate in New York.
Would it be the focused, disciplined candidate who has breathed new life into a faltering campaign?
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Or would it be the free-range, scattergun businessman who blew his way through the Republican primary campaign?
In the end – it was a combination of them both. The real Donald Trump in fact.
His aim was clear from the start. He wanted to paint the picture of an America that wasn’t working, that could be better and had the politicians to blame. Politicians like Hillary Clinton.
“Typical politician. All talk. No action. Sounds good. Doesn’t work. Never gonna happen,” he said.
It was one moment in the 90-minute debate which summed up his entire line of attack, a line he knows resonates with many people across America who have spent the election turning against traditional candidates.
The Democratic challenger wanted to show America that her campaign wasn’t just about tearing down Trump, but it was also about presenting her policies, a vision for making things better.
For a candidate who has often been described as cold and detached, she reminded the audience that this was her granddaughter’s birthday.
But she also took every opportunity to needle Trump and she succeeded in getting under his famously thin skin.
She criticised his business record. She questioned the size of his fortune and his charity giving. And she questioned some of the facts he has been using on the campaign trail.
Trump took the bait early on, often talking over his one-time friend. When she accused him of not actually paying any federal income tax, he didn’t actually deny it. Instead he responded “that makes me smart”.
When she accused him of using the housing crisis in America to make money, he replied “that’s business”; a tone deaf response to the millions who lost their homes.
When she accused him of claiming the Chinese invented the hoax of global warming to hit American industry, he denied he ever said any such a thing. And as he was answering, his campaign was busy deleting the tweet that said exactly that.
But then the fact checkers had a busy night. Trump, again and at length, denied he ever supported the Iraq War even though it’s a matter of public record that he gave tacit support in the days before the debate.
He disputed a claim from the moderator that a federal judge ruled the use of controversial “stop-and-frisk” laws in New York as unconstitutional. The judge did.
He also claimed murders in New York were up because the law had been scrapped. They’re not.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 27, 2016
Clinton, too, took an ambiguous position on the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership saying she hoped it would be a good trade deal, but when she read the full detail she was against it. In fact, she spoke out more than 40 times in favour of the deal with no strings attached to the final wording.
Clinton’s worst moment came as she had to apologise for her use of a private email server while secretary of state. Trump told her most Americans disliked her behaviour and that landed a blow.
Trump’s was when he tried to defend his “birther” position, the idea that President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States and so America’s first African American president didn’t have a legitimate claim to the position. His answer was unfocused, meandering and just awful.
Immediately after the debate ended, the two campaigns hit the spin room to put the best possible gloss on their candidates performance.
A man who can be provoked by a tweet should not have his hands anywhere near the nuclear codes. #DebateNight
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 27, 2016
Yet as analyst Jason Johnson pointed out live on Al Jazeera, social media has made the spin room a slightly old-fashioned idea, with those double screening already delivering their verdict. The reality is if you were for Trump before the debate, you probably heard nothing to change that view – and the same is true for Clinton supporters.
There are two more debates to come.
It will be interesting to see if we again see the two Donald Trumps.