Who else won the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?

How’d it all shake out?
How’d it all shake out?
Image: AP Photo/David Goldman
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Based on polls, focus groups, and media consensus, Democrat Hillary Clinton won last night’s US presidential debate, and Republican Donald Trump lost. But those two were not the only winners and losers of the evening—a wide range of people, things, and abstract concepts came out of the momentous debate looking better or worse than they did before it.

Here’s a scorecard:



Media analysts expected the total television audience for the debate to approach 100 million viewers, or roughly the viewership of a Super Bowl. It looks like the debate won’t quite reach that level, but is in good shape to surpass 80 million and become the most-watched US presidential debate ever. It was watched by 46 million people on the four major broadcasts alone (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC). When cable channels are added in, it could break records.

Lester Holt

All eyes were on moderator Lester Holt last night, and he delivered. He wasn’t perfect, but he did a good job asking substantive questions, allowing the candidates to talk (although sometimes too much), and fact-checking many false statements. He seemed to irritate both sides—always a good sign for a journalist—and showed that he was, at the very least, prepared for his moment (unlike his NBC colleague a few weeks ago).


Holt couldn’t fact-check everything, but luckily we had a multitude of other outlets to do the work in realtime while the debate was going on. Fact-checking websites Politifact and both tweeted during the debate, calling out lies. Bloomberg TV incorporated a live fact-checking analysis into its broadcast of the debate. NPR transcribed the debate in real time and had its reporters and editors fact-check the candidates statements, giving the public radio network’s website its biggest day ever.


Trump sniffled throughout the debate, prompting thousands of Twitter users to suggest he blow his nose.

Some thought the tissue brand should have seized on the moment:

And of course, some floated theories as to why he was so sniffly.

The Mexican peso

The currency went up 2% against the US dollar overnight, following the debate. The peso suffers whenever the probability that Trump will be elected increases. And, apparently, it surges when that prospect seems less likely.

Gender studies

The entire 90-minute debate could become a staple of gender studies syllabi for years to come. Trump interrupted or cut off Clinton 51 times during the debate, and used coded language like “stamina” to imply Clinton was not fit to be president.

Awkward handshakes

One of the night’s most memorable moments came after it ended, when Holt stood to shake Trump’s hand, but Trump wandered away, oblivious to or ignoring the gesture. Trump did return a few moments later to shake Holt’s hand, but not before giving us this incredible, hall-of-fame-caliber Vine to cherish forever:

Sartorial mind games

Trump most often wears a solid red tie, but here’s an interesting theory: Clinton tricked Trump into abandoning his preferred color and his personal uniform, which may have led to a broader unraveling. Last week, Clinton appeared on the Funny or Die skit Between Two Ferns and said she assumed Trump would wear his patented “red power tie.” It’s unclear whether that was an intentional sabotage, but Trump did break habit by opting for a softer blue, which didn’t fit his invasive style. Clinton wore a bright red suit.

This woman

Al Jazeera English reporter Kimberly Halkett was trying to get an interview with billionaire Mark Cuban before the debate began, when she was seemingly pushed from behind by another reporter. Then this happened:


Trans-Pacific Partnership

One of the few things that Clinton and Trump agree on is that the final iteration of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a multinational trade agreement the US entered in 2015, is bad. Whenever the two candidates on stage criticize the same policy, it’s not going to have a good night.

The War in Iraq

Another thing Clinton and Trump now agree on is that the Iraq War was a mistake. Clinton voted in 2002 to grant then-president George W. Bush the authority to go to war, but began criticizing the war shortly after and has since said her initial vote was a mistake. Trump has long claimed he was against the war from the beginning, but the evidence suggests that he, too, flip-flopped on the issue.

Implicit racial bias

In arguably the debate’s most meaningful moment, Clinton addressed the problem of systemic racism and implicit bias in the United States, an issue that needs to be talked about much more than it is. Her answer, when asked by Holt about the problem, was praised by many:

HOLT: Secretary Clinton, last week, you said we’ve got to do everything possible to improve policing, to go right at implicit bias. Do you believe that police are implicitly biased against black people?

CLINTON: Lester, I think implicit bias is a problem for everyone, not just police. I think, unfortunately, too many of us in our great country jump to conclusions about each other. And therefore, I think we need all of us to be asking hard questions about, you know, why am I feeling this way?

But when it comes to policing, since it can have literally fatal consequences, I have said, in my first budget, we would put money into that budget to help us deal with implicit bias by retraining a lot of our police officers.

Trump’s website

It crashed right after Trump told viewers to go to it for more information about his ideas. He was promptly mocked on Twitter:

Naked greed

Trump openly bragged about not paying any income tax and taking advantage of US bankruptcy laws. “That makes me smart,” he said, in response to Clinton mentioning years in which he paid no federal taxes. On his rooting for the 2008 housing crisis that collapsed the US economy, Trump later said, “That’s called business.” His comments came across as cold, unapologetic, and disrespectful of working people. It’s one reason why American CEOs, who typically embrace entrepreneurs running for office, are avoiding him like the plague.

The audience

You guys had one job. As is debate custom, Holt asked the audience to refrain from making any noise during the debate—that included clapping, laughs, cheers, groans, and boos. The audience in the debate hall at Hofstra University did all five, routinely ignoring Holt’s request for decorum.

Sean Hannity’s phone

Trump literally asked the press, in front of 80 million viewers, to call Fox News anchor Sean Hannity to verify Trump’s claim that he’s always been against the Iraq War. Some actually did:


Sorry, Hillary, “basket of deplorables,” might have worked, but “Trumped up trickle down” needs to be thrown out. Or maybe it’s one of those lines that’s so bad that it’s actually good? Perhaps it was intentionally bad so that people would remember it, thus inserting the failures of trickle down economics back into the public consciousness? Most likely, though, it was just a corny line that we’ll never hear again.