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Trump, Clinton Go Head-To-Head In First Debate


Now for a broader look at the impact of last night's debate, we're joined by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. And Mara, do you think Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump accomplished what they needed to do last night?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: I think Hillary Clinton did accomplish what she needed to do. She didn't solve all her problems, but she solved a lot of them. She clearly was speaking to her base, to African-Americans and women. But she was also trying to reach out to those voters who don't want to vote for Trump but have real concerns about her honesty and trustworthy and likeableness. She kept smiling throughout the debate. She wasn't aggressive or harsh. She spoke in simple, clear sentences. And to quote the president of the United States, she was likable enough last night.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, didn't clear the low hurdle that was set for him. His campaign called him the Babe Ruth of debaters, but now it looks like Babe Ruth has to go back to the batting cage and do some more preparation. And that raises a really interesting question for the Trump campaign because they have to decide what he has to do differently next time.

He had several conflicting problems. He was very aggressive, and he interrupted a lot. But he also was not coherent, and he had too many word-salad answers. So the next time, does he need to be more restrained and more substantive? Or does he need to press his case more aggressively? I think by not clearing the low hurdle he had for this debate, he creates a much higher hurdle for himself for the second debate.

SHAPIRO: There was a lot of talk going into this debate about how much fact checking the moderator Lester Holt would do. How does that look in the rearview mirror? What happened?

LIASSON: Lester Holt did do some fact checking. The candidates fact checked each other. Donald Trump constantly said wrong, wrong when Hillary Clinton was talking. She interrupted him by saying, no, I didn't do that. And the whole media world was fact checking. That's plenty of the conversation today.

The other thing is that there were a lot of issues that weren't talked about. Benghazi didn't come up. She wasn't asked about the Clinton Foundation, health care, education, veterans. There were a lot of issues that the moderator didn't raise, but the candidates didn't raise them either.

SHAPIRO: And how are the candidates reacting now that the debate is behind them?

LIASSON: Trump complained that the mic wasn't working in the hall maybe as an explanation on why he didn't do that well. This morning he went on "Fox And Friends" and was talking about Alicia Machado, who was the Miss Universe contestant, about how much weight she gained and how much she ate. He was talking about his tax returns, and he said some of these questions are, quote, "not answerable in a positive light."

On the other hand, the Clinton campaign's aftermath was just relief and joy. They feel she did very, very well. On the plane this morning Clinton said that anyone who complains about the microphone not working clearly did not have a good night. So Democrats are breathing a sigh of relief today. And for a party famous for its hand-wringing, one member of Congress said there will be no bedwetting among Democrats for at least 12 hours.

SHAPIRO: Well, apart from that, do you think this debate changed anything concrete?

LIASSON: We don't know yet if it changed anything concrete. We're going to have to wait for the polls. But it's possible that it could have stopped Donald Trump's momentum. That's what was happening in the days leading up to the debate. The race was tightening. It was a virtual tie, and he was surging in some of the key battleground states. Most people are decided.

This is a very polarized electorate, but there are plenty of people who didn't want to vote for Hillary Clinton but were waiting to see if Donald Trump could convince them he had the right temperament to be president. And there were some people on the fence that didn't want to vote for Donald Trump but weren't sure Hillary Clinton was honest and trustworthy. We'll see soon if they were able to make any inroads among those still undecided people.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Mara Liasson, thanks a lot.

LIASSON: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: And NPR's live coverage of the presidential debates continues next Tuesday for the vice presidential debate. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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