Reactions from Duke policy experts on the first presidential debate of 2016

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Clinton’s challenge was to convey her policy skills without becoming too “wonkish,” and to show a steadiness that would help build trust as president to offset doubts based more on her reputation for political maneuvering, said Bruce Jentleson, a professor of public policy and political science.

“The general reaction thus far is that she did this well. Pundits largely gave her the win, markets went up right away -- Dow Futures, various international stock exchanges. Whether swing voters in swing states moved toward her is as yet unclear, and in many respects the crucial factor.”

Jentleson said Trump needed to convey presidential competence both in terms of command of the issues and temperament for the office.

“He hit his notes on trade, and that may have resonated with some swing votes/swing states. Polls later this week will give some indication. But he did far more reverting to repetitious and meandering rhetoric than showing the knowledge of issues that would be needed to be the change agent he styles himself as.”

This was especially evident on foreign policy and national security issues, Jentleson added.

Political scientist Peter Feaver, who formerly worked as a national security adviser to Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, wrote in a Foreign Policy blog Tuesday that neither candidate committed a major new foreign policy gaffe -- “just, alas, a bunch of old familiar ones.”

But the debate didn’t offer much insight into “how either candidate would handle the dangerous legacy of international instability one of them will inherit on Jan. 20, 2017.”

“The most interesting foreign policy question was the last one on no first use” of nuclear weapons, Feaver wrote. “President Obama is flirting with a very risky policy to undermine U.S. deterrence by pledging no-first use. Trump was asked about this and gave an ambiguous answer that seemed both to promise no-first use and to insist that he would not take any capability off the table.

“Clinton avoided the question about no first use, preferring to make a different -- but important and worthwhile -- point that the United States could be trusted to honor its treaty obligations. (Moderator Lester) Holt did not press her to answer on no first use.”

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