Trump's nerves got the better of him but Clinton missed chances to attack
Published 28/09/2016 | 02:30
As Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton walked on stage for the first presidential debate, they both oozed cool and calm. It was not a sign of things to come.
"Donald Trump was very strong for the first 20 minutes and then I feel he went off the rails," Karol Ward, a New York-based psychotherapist and confidence expert, said. "I thought Trump showed nervousness - he was drinking water early on with hands that were shaking a little," she said. "Clinton also had nervous energy but it was contained in a different way."
While Mr Trump gripped the lectern - "something to hold on to" - he stared at his opponent with pursed lips and sideways glances. Occasionally he rolled his eyes, Ms Ward said. "This is just what I perceived, but he seemed to look to where his family were seated. He seemed to be trying to get signals or reassurance, whereas Clinton looked out more at the crowd." She continued: "It was almost as if he was looking for encouraging smiles."
The hashtag #sniffles started trending on Twitter within half an hour of the start of the debate. "It's either that he had a cold or it was a nervous tic," Ms Ward said. "He seemed to to do it right before he answered a question. He wasn't rubbing his nose or sniffling between answers so it was almost like when someone takes a breath but not deeply enough and they're trying to get more air."
The candidates each had a hard line of attack, covering national security, the economy and terrorism. Mr Trump went after Ms Clinton on trade deals and emphasised "law and order" to deal with inner city violence, while the Democrat claimed he was not a successful businessman and asked what he was "hiding" by not releasing his tax returns. But Mr Trump did get brownie points for the way in which he delivered his remarks, which would hold great sway with his voter base.
"It's not always what you say, it's how you say it," said Ms Ward. "And if you're forceful, it can be seen as a sign of strength." Ms Clinton's beaming smile during the debate became a viral meme on Monday evening.
Ms Ward said the smile was a way of letting Mr Trump "hang himself" but Ms Clinton ended up missing a few key opportunities to hit back harder as a result.
"At times there was a little bit of a frozen smile on her face and she needs to let that go," she said.
While Ms Clinton maintained a slow and deliberate way of talking, Mr Trump became "defensive" at several points, insisting that Fox News anchor Sean Hannity could prove that Mr Trump had not wanted to invade Iraq.
"There's a difference between defending oneself and saying 'No, that's not true', and getting defensive. Defensiveness means getting heated, they can't hear things and they go off on an irrational loop of thought."
A key difference between the candidates came at the end of the debate. While Ms Clinton, her husband and daughter instantly went to greet the crowd, Mr Trump surrounded himself with his family on stage.
"She really was conveying: 'I'm available, I'm here, I'm open," said Ms Ward. "Bill Clinton shook all the Trump family's hands before the debate started and they looked a bit startled by that."