Preparation pays off for Clinton in debate matchup

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Donald Trump is the king of declaratory moral judgments. His stump speeches and off-the-cuff remarks are full of top-lines and conclusions delivered in a confident and knowing tone, suggesting he has arrived at his verdicts after long study and great familiarity. This is particularly true when it comes to judgments about his presidential rival, Hillary Clinton.

“She can’t bring it home,” he said in the spin room after the first presidential debate Monday in Hempstead, N.Y. “She doesn’t have what it takes to make America great again,” he observed wearily at another point. “She has been saying these things for years and nothing ever happens,” he said.

It’s an approach that makes him sound at times as if he’s still at the helm of a television show, evaluating job applicants with the goal of finding them wanting and eliminating them. It’s also one that works better when the object of his judgment doesn’t have a platform to simply keep on talking, as Clinton did during the debate, hewing to her polished set pieces no matter how many times she was interrupted (that would be 70 times, according to Vox). And it’s an approach, the evening made clear, that works much less well when Trump is called upon to delve deeper than his own memorably worded conclusions, as he was repeatedly during his first ever one-on-one, 90-minute debate.

The contrast between the two candidates on the stage — preparation vs. swagger — could not have been more stark, and their differences were instantly recognizable as extreme examples of the well-documented gendered strategies for navigating the professional world, where women are legendary preppers while men can often win on the strength of their bluster. In the end, preparation wore better on the debate stage, according to snap polls and focus groups of undecided voters, which declared Clinton the evening’s victor.

There were moments when the gender subtext of the contest between the GOP presidential nominee and the first female Democratic Party nominee became explicit. Trump seemed to berate her early on and at times simply bellowed at her, “Wrong!” In response, she smiled and even at one point shimmied. “Hey straight white guys, if you’re amazed that Clinton is keeping her cool right now, remember that women practice it all day, every day,” observed feminist writer Chloe Angyal in a tweet that went viral during the debate.

The candidates argued over whether Trump has called a working woman’s pregnancy an inconvenience (he has), along with his statements about whether Clinton looked presidential. She again cataloged insulting comments he has made about women’s appearances — “pigs, slobs and dogs” — and added the story of Alicia Machado to the list.

“And one of the worst things he said was about a woman in a beauty contest,” said Clinton. “He loves beauty contests, supporting them and hanging around them. And he called this woman ‘Miss Piggy.’ Then he called her ‘Miss Housekeeping’ because she was Latina.”

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton at the debate. (Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters)
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton at the debate. (Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters)

Following on the heels of that setup, the Clinton campaign released a devastating online video featuring Machado calling Trump a racist and talking about how his public criticism of her weight helped her develop an eating disorder.

There was no such prepared line of attack from the Trump campaign.

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