Editorial: Clinton's solid performance vs. Trump's bluster

Published Sept. 27, 2016

Hillary Clinton delivered a strong performance in the first presidential debate Monday night, offering responsible plans for helping the middle class and reducing crime as an ill-prepared Donald Trump relied on his predictable brash declarations with few details. The difference between an experienced public servant and a billionaire reality television star could not have been clearer.

Clinton dominated in a strong first segment on the economy, as she pitched her sensible proposals to help the middle class with investments in renewable energy and infrastructure. She put Trump on the defensive as she attacked his tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy and would significantly increase the federal deficit, calling them "Trumped-up, trickle-down'' economics that have not worked in the past. She quickly got under Trump's skin, and he began interrupting her repeatedly about the dangers of free trade agreements and jobs fleeing to Mexico.

Trump provided plenty of bluster and few facts as he talked about reducing regulations and cutting taxes. "The wealthy are going to create tremendous jobs,'' he vowed.

"Slashing taxes on the wealthy hasn't worked,'' Clinton countered. "I don't think top-down works in America.''

"All talk, no action,'' Trump responded.

Trump also became defensive when moderator Lester Holt questioned why he would not release his tax returns. Trump offered to release them when Clinton releases thousands of emails deleted from the private server she used as secretary of state.

"Maybe he's not as rich as he says he is,'' Clinton countered about why Trump won't release the tax returns. "This is something the American people deserved to see … there is something he's hiding.''

The middle portion of the debate devolved into a discussion of Trump's business practices. Clinton said he "stiffed" thousands of people who did work for him and noted he declared business bankruptcy several times. Trump countered he "took advantage of the laws of the nation.''

Trump also was vague on how to address police shootings and violence in cities such as Chicago, calling for "law and order.'' He advocated a return to "stop and frisk" police tactics, which have been discredited as a form of racial profiling. That won't help the inner city black neighborhoods Trump claims he wants to make safer. Clinton called for tighter gun controls, better police training on use of force and other criminal justice reforms.

Asked by Holt about his years of questions about whether President Barack Obama was an American citizen, Trump was unapologetic. "I think I did a great job and a great service,'' he said, which is an absurd defense of a racist attack.

In Florida, the race remains a tossup and the state's importance will be underscored again this week. Trump returns today to Central Florida. Hillary Clinton will be in Democratic stronghold Broward County on Friday, and Bill Clinton will work his way across North Florida on Saturday. Floridians should raise questions that are of particular concern in this state and received little or no attention on the national stage Monday night.

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Will both candidates support the current drilling moratorium off Florida's west coast?

How would they adjust the wet-foot, dry-foot policy toward Cubans who reach South Florida's shores?

Where does NASA and space exploration, which are critical to Florida, fit into their plans?

What would the future be for our military bases, such as MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, which are economic drivers?

How would they invest in transit, whether it be high-speed rail like the project Gov. Rick Scott rejected, or light rail that Tampa Bay so desperately needs?

There will be plenty debate spin today, and mail ballots in Florida go out next week. The Nov. 8 election cannot come soon enough.