There’s Plenty Left to Talk About in the Next Clinton-Trump Debate

Both candidates shortchanged substance, many attack lines sidelined

Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton during their first debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., on Monday. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton during their first debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., on Monday. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Posted September 28, 2016 at 5:00am

Since they got all the way through the all-important Rosie O’Donnell issue by the end of their first debate, maybe they’ve run out of things to talk about next time?

Hardly. And for the next dozen days, Hillary Clinton will be making a list, and Donald Trump a much longer list, of subjects they want to introduce at their second encounter.

Plenty of soundbite-worthy topics have been plumbed this year by each of them, hoping to sow doubt about (or at least infuriate) the other. Yet many of those went mysteriously missing when a record 84 million people were watching Monday night. As importantly, there wasn’t much detailed illumination from the candidates about how they would govern as president and what their legislative priorities would be.

And that, to make the obvious if nerdy point right out of an American civics class, is what should be most important to the potentially pivotal few million who haven’t decided how to vote.

It’s also clearly what most members of Congress — those free of worry about getting dragged to defeat by a collapse at the top of the ticket — are watching for. Come the new year, they’re the people who are going to have to live most immediately, intimately and consequentially with the decision the nation makes in six weeks.

3 Things Clinton and Trump Might Cover in the Next Debate

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The next chance

The next chance for midcourse tactical corrections comes Oct. 9, when the Republican and Democratic nominees meet for a town hall encounter at Washington University in St. Louis.

Clinton will likely be more assertive than she was during Round One in correcting Trump’s factual misstatements or exaggerations of the truth.

And she can be counted on to unspool lines of attack about Trump’s qualifications and temperament that she eschewed on the stage at Hofstra University on Monday. Those include his misunderstandings about the U.S. constitutional system and his plainly-against-international-law plan to “take the oil” in Iraq and in areas controlled by the Islamic State.

Trump has a much thicker folder of things left unsaid. For starters, he never used the word “crooked” to describe his opponent, whose sustained untrustworthiness remains her biggest political Achilles’ heel. He didn’t mention the Clinton Foundation and the potential conflicts of interest it’s created for her. The word “Benghazi” is nowhere in the transcript, and neither is any reference to Clinton’s over-the-top generalization about half of Trump’s voters belonging in a “basket of deplorables.”

And those are just the potential japes that got wholly set aside. There’s also a rasher of rich material on both sides that merited only glancing mentions in the first 95 minutes when Clinton and Trump were face to face, from his admiration of Vladimir Putin’s autocratic rule over Russia to her cavalier if not quite criminal handling of sensitive State Department emails.

Policy differences

If all the personality stuff dominates their second debate, there may not be much time to explore some of the policy differences that also got overlooked in their first debate.

Neither Trump, who’s running as the ultimate opponent of the status quo, nor Clinton, who’s running from the perception that she’d represent Barack Obama’s third term, made the word “change” a part of their rhetoric.

Incredibly, there was no discussion whatsoever of how Trump would actually realize his most ambitious signature campaign promise: Building an unscalably high wall along the Mexican border, compelling the Mexicans to pay for it and then deporting the millions of people now in the country illegally.

Neither was there any update on his even more provocative immigration plan — the ever-evolving promise to restrict entrance by Muslims.

There was no pressing of Clinton to detail her definition of “the wealthy” and how much more she envisions them being taxed to pay for her plans to create millions of new jobs, mitigate against climate change and expand the social safety net for college students and working parents.

There was no mention of the oceans of money in politics and its corrosive effect on democracy, an issue of major concern to the millennials Clinton is working hard to win over.

Nor was there any mention of the Supreme Court, which is poised for a generational changeover before the decade is out, even though Trump and Clinton each claim to represent where the country is on the judiciary’s role in regulating commerce, cultural norms and personal freedoms.

These are all things the K Street and Capitol Hill communities are hungering to hear more about, because after Nov. 8, there will be just 73 days until the inauguration.

She may have been wearing a bright red Republican pantsuit, and he a vibrantly Democratic blue tie, but appearances in the opening debate were deceiving: Both mainly played to their partisan bases of support.

Trump will be pressed to adopt a different strategy a week from Sunday — emphasizing messages designed to win over those uncomfortable with Clinton, and those unsure what his presidency would really be about, in an effort to reverse the perception that he “lost” badly on Monday.

Clinton will be pressed to behave differently, too — discarding some of the smiling equanimity normally associated with an assured front-runner, and instead adopting a more combative posture toward her opponent and a more assertive tone about where she’d take the country.