By Marcel Gautreau Contributor
Before the debate, I must have been asked more than a dozen times what my expectations were, and each time I answered that I did not have high hopes for Hillary Clinton’s performance. Her most recent public appearance had her passing out amidst rumors of a variety of health conditions, ranging from pneumonia to Parkinson's. Even before that, she hadn't held a single press conference in nearly a year. Halfway through her own party primary, she had stopped debating her only opponent.
I was legitimately considering the possibility that she would lose consciousness on the stage. Donald Trump, on the other hand, was capable of debating 16 other candidates during his party’s primary, and won handily. He was obviously a skilled orator, and no stranger to the camera. At one point during the day, I said that "I expect that this will be a good day for Donald Trump."
I was wrong.
Far from the energetic maverick that Americans had come to recognize, the Donald Trump on stage last night seemed downright domesticated. On the other hand, Clinton appeared sharp, alert and ready throughout the entire event. If there was ever a time where Trump needed to appear strong, this was it, and from what I saw, he failed. I cannot say for sure why this was, but it is possible that Trump walked on stage intending to reverse his image as an unpredictable, misogynistic hothead as Clinton’s campaign had painted. His goal may have been to assure those on the fence about supporting him that he could, in fact, appear presidential as he carried on a respectable political debate. Only the polls can tell if that actually worked. Clinton’s goal last night was to look and sound like the voice of reason and experience next to a loudmouthed braggart and bully.
There was one moment in the debate that stuck out long after it ended. Early on, Donald Trump accused the Federal Reserve of "playing political games." While many on the right have doubted the numbers behind the "Obama Recovery," Trump came out to the public and said that the U.S. was in an economic bubble. Anybody with a passing interest in economics, finance or accounting understood the significance of his claims that "the only thing doing well right now is the stock market." This was a reaction to the current rise in stock prices is the result of an inflationary policy of near-zero interest rates by the Federal Reserve bank, a result of easy access to loans and cheap capital, not on the strength of the economy.
As he said, when the Fed raised rates slightly in December, the Chinese stock market went into a panic while the American S&P 500 went down by about 11 percent over the next month. Since then, the Fed has been in a strange game of economic footsie with the markets, insisting that it may potentially raise interest rates further at some point in the future, yet never actually doing so in fear of a repeat performance.
I was incredibly surprised when Trump, of all people, devoted over five minutes to explain his views on a problem that most Americans were completely unaware of until that moment. Clinton was unable to respond to this because the moderator insisted on returning the conversation back to the topic of Trump's personal tax returns. This told me all I needed to know about the level of discourse I should expect in the debates moving forward.
As entertaining as I found Trump's proud claim that he is audited by the Internal Revenue Service on a regular basis, a boast that should have won him the grudging respect of every libertarian watching, I wasn't sure how to feel about his final assertion that he would release his full tax returns against the advice of his attorneys as soon as Clinton released the emails that she deleted. While the American people can always benefit from the reminder that Clinton is guilty of multiple felonies, at the moment he shouted it, it didn't signal “confidence” so much as “mounting frustration.”
Either way, I can't wait for the next debate. It's sure to be quality entertainment.
Marcel Gautreau is the president of the Hofstra Students for Liberty
The views and opinions expressed in the Op-Ed section are those of the authors of the articles. They are not an endorsement of the views of The Chronicle or its staff. The Chronicle does not discriminate based on the opinions of the authors.