By Tony Perkins
Last night was supposed to belong to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. But the biggest story of the first debate wasn’t the candidates answering the questions — it was the person asking them. In one of the most talked-about plots of the first head-to-head, moderator Lester Holt seemed intent on making the debate a three-person affair — injecting himself with almost as many challenges to Trump as the person officially opposing him. For most of the night, the Republican nominee was fending off not one — but two — attackers, repeatedly put on the defensive with topics that had nothing to do with the major issues facing America.
Meanwhile, the former Secretary of State, who’s probably spent as much time under investigation by Congress as she did as a Member of it, skated by virtually unscathed by Holt’s one-sided fact-checking. While he fiercely pressed Trump on his tax returns and concerns over President Obama’s birthplace, he couldn’t spare a single question on the corruption of the Clinton Foundation, her role in Benghazi, or the intentional deletion of tens of thousands of sensitive emails, or her outrageous “basket of deplorables” comment. Social media lit up with criticism for the NBC anchor, who many accused of shilling for the Clintons.
Holt’s bias is difficult to argue when you consider that he interrupted Trump 41 times demanding clarification — six times the amount he interrupted Clinton (seven). He “emerged as bruised and partisan,” The Hill argued. “Holt entered the evening largely respected as non-partisan. He [exits] as the toast of left-leaning media…” Part of the problem was Holt’s lack of focus. At a time when America is dealing with terror attacks on our own soil, a military in complete disarray, and a culture melting down before our very eyes, voters deserved to hear about more important things than Trump’s tax returns.
As for the actual substance of the debate, viewers were probably surprised to see a more restrained version of Donald Trump than they’re used to. Trump landed plenty of good jabs on America’s devastating trade and Iranian deals, but sidestepped some key opportunities to go on offense, especially when it came to Clinton’s email scandal — which made up a whopping 15 seconds of the hour and a half event. “I will release my tax returns — against my lawyer’s issues — when she releases her 33,000 emails that have been deleted,” he said. It was almost surreal, then, when the former Secretary of State tried to talk about the importance of cyber security — after committing one of the most dangerous breaches of it in U.S. history. “We are not going to sit idly by and permit state actors to go after our information, our private-sector information or our public-sector information,” Clinton had the audacity to declare, after risking countless lives with her own carelessness on top-secret emails.
The real estate mogul’s biggest payoff came in the first 30 minutes when he assumed complete control of the economic issues, hammering back on the Left’s prosperity-is-evil doctrine. Of course, the reason liberals hate personal success is because it makes people less reliant on the government they’re desperate to grow. Wisely, Trump refused to run from his success and instead embraced it as an example of what’s possible when Americans are left (unburdened by Washington) to pursue their own ingenuity. Clinton, meanwhile, was all but drowning in her disgust of the more fortunate, alienating plenty of voters along the way with her mockery of the trickle-down economics made famous by Ronald Reagan.
Like the ghost of former Democratic candidate Walter Mondale, she recycled old talking points about the ineffectiveness of the approach (which happened to produce three times as many net jobs as President Obama’s debt-funded “recovery”). Then she continued her party’s push to make government the unofficial police of income equality. That’s not only a terrible idea, but an unnecessary one, as author Arthur Brooks points out in his book Who Really Cares. Combing through piles of financial data, he found that the 30 percent of Americans who think the government should do little or nothing about economic inequality gave away, on average, four times more of their income than the 43 percent who said the government should do something. And the majority of those Americans are religious. Conservatives — the same ones who oppose this redistribution of wealth — are among the most generous people on earth. But contrary to Hillary Clinton, they call what they give to churches contributions, and what they give the government, taxes.
It was one of the many profound differences in philosophy on display last night. Another was the role of the judicial system. In a largely overlooked section of the debate, the Yale Law School graduate declared that the courts had struck down the Stop-and-Frisk program because it “did not do what it needed to do.” “Stop-and-frisk,” she insisted, “was found to be unconstitutional, in part, because it was ineffective.” As Secretary Clinton well knows, however, such a simplistic characterization of the law based on the specific circumstances in one case is not accurate; the procedure is perfectly legal in many situations. Secretary Clinton owes the American voter an honest assessment of the problems she attempts to describe – as these voters are already weary of activist judges of dishonest politicians.
By the end of the night, if voters wanted a clear contrast, they found it. In one candidate, they have a continuation of the last eight years. In the other, an agent of change who terrifies the Left. Let’s pray America chooses wisely. For more on the stark differences between the two candidates, check out FRC Action’s updated presidential voter guide, available here. For more on my reaction from inside the debate hall, make sure to follow me on Twitter @TPerkins