Best Lines & Messaging From First Presidential Debate

Best Lines & Messaging From First Presidential Debate

What a doozy. Hillary won the first presidential debate, and had some killer messaging. Trump tried, but didn’t find much success with new rhetorical strategies. Here are my picks for best messaging angles of the first presidential debate.

Trumped Up Trickle Down, aka #TrumpleDown

I called it. Well, mostly.

In my debate preview post, I suggested that the Clinton Campaign come up with a slogan to mock Trump and call him a liar. “Trumped Up Trickle Down” is what they came up with, and it’s actually really solid messaging. It uses a phrase we all know, names Trump specifically, and ties it to policies that everyone finally agrees are terrible. After repeating the phrase a few times, she went on to say, “It’s the same thing we tried before, but with his language”. Perfect. The only downside is that it doesn’t work as a hashtag. #trumpeduptrickledown is too long and looks like word puke. #trumpledown on the other hand looks nice. Use it Secretary Clinton, it’s perfect!

Hillary’s Response to TPP

I didn’t think it was possible for Hillary to give an answer on TPP that satisfied me. But I think she did in the first presidential debate. She said, “I hold the same standards for all trade deals”. And I said, “Oh really Secretary Clinton? Prove it!”

As Trump finished lampooning Clinton for NAFTA, she brought up her vote against CAFTA, a free trade deal with the Dominican Republican And Central American countries. In addition to having rhyming names, she claimed the deal was also similar in policy to NAFTA – A round-about way of saying she’s evolved on the issue.

After Trump cited her calling the TPP the “Gold Standard”, Clinton threw a very Clintonly-spoken haymaker:

Well donald, I know you live in your own reality… that is not the facts… i hoped it would be, but when it was negotiated which I was not responsible for, I concluded it wasn’t.

Check out the entire exchange below and read the facts about Clinton’s trade agreement votes here:

Donald Trump Isn’t Rich and He’s Hiding Something

This line of attack was so much more aggressive than anything I could have possibly expected from the Clinton Campaign. She poses the question and then answers it, “Why won’t he release his tax returns? … I think there may be a couple of reasons…”

The number of points she makes in a single sound bite is incredible:

  • Maybe he’s not as rich as he says he is.
  • Maybe he’s not as charitable as he claims.
  • He owes about 650 million wall street and foreign banks.
  • Maybe he doesn’t want you to know he’s paid nothing in federal taxes.
  • We’ve only seen two years ever of his tax returns, and they show he paid $0 in taxes.
  • That’s $0 for troops, $0 for vets, $0 for schools, $0 health.
  • Probably not enthusiastic about the rest of the country seeing what the real reasons are.
  • Must be something really important – even terrible – that he’s trying to hide.

This is what debate preparation looks like. She did not come up with this stuff off-the-cuff. The Clinton Campaign developed the best points in the most succinct way they could, and they got their money’s worth. Amazing messaging. Moving forward, she should continue with these barrage attacks. Trump isn’t sharp enough to keep up, and it showed when he said, “That makes me smart”, in response to his claim that he paid nothing in taxes. Donald Trump, you are an idiot to admit that.

Watch the full exchange below:

Donald Trumps Best Messaging

This is hard. As I’m writing, I’m realizing that Trump didn’t really have any great new messaging angles.

Trump tried an angle I am extremely familiar with. I write about it in my post, “The Art of Campaign Messaging“. “30 years is long enough” is what we used to say about Mitch McConnell, and Trump tried that same line of attack on Hillary, but to no avail. Perhaps this could work if he tightened up the messaging, but right now, it doesn’t mean anything. Most voters can name at least 2 jobs Hillary Clinton has had in the last 30 years – so she clearly hasn’t been doing the exact same thing over the last 30 years. If Trump were to drill down and make points of how she could have fixed a specific issue over the last 30 years citing specific actions she could have taken while in specific roles – then maybe this line would work. But it didn’t here and he gave it up after the first part of the debate.

He tried the “law and order” angle but it came off as completely tone deaf when used as a response to racial injustices. This is a terrible and un-empathetic messaging tactic that is guaranteed to not help with earning votes from minority demographics. Bad messaging, bad timing, bad tone. Just bad.

Quick Hitter Messaging That Worked

Not exact quotes, but these messaging angles worked well for me in the first presidential debate.

Hillary: “We’ve got to address the systemic racism in our criminal just system. We cant just say law and order. We got to come up with a plan”

Excellent response to Trumps Law and Order angle.

Trump: “You’re telling the enemy everything you want to do…. General MacArthur would not approve”

Without the General MacArthur part, this messaging doesn’t work. But with it, it plays well for a certain type of demographic (white men who have a collection of ww2 DVDs).

Clinton: “Words matter”and then she addressed world leaders: “our word is good”

This is presidential. This was the most presidential thing done on stage at the first presidential debate.

Trump: “Coulda’ rebuilt our country twice with money wasted in middle east”

This is a good point, but his campaign doesn’t know how to shape the messaging. He needs to connect this to her character. She has bad judgement. She will waste money. But instead, he just says it, with no messaging that addresses how she will manage future situations. This messaging is good, only because everything else was so bad.

Hillary: “He started his career back in 1973 by being sued by justice dept for housing discrimination.”

This is not only true, it’s perfect messaging. Keep this up. Hillary shouldn’t give an inch to Trump in minority demographics. He is a racist. We know that. But this proves it more than his own words.

Trump’s Post Debate Messaging

As I suggested in my preview post, Trump did not bring up Gennifer Flowers or any of Bill’s affairs, but he did use his surrogates to push a narrative that says Hillary is the true anti-women candidate. I nailed it. I don’t think it will work, but it is his best option if he wants to use the affairs in his messaging.

Trump’s Nonsense Rants

The response she got to the final quote above was amazing. Trump struggled through a nonsense answer that you have to read to believe:

“When I was very young, I went into my father’s company… and we, along with many, many other companies throughout the country, were sued. We settled the suit with no admission of guilt. Zero. In Palm Beach, Florida… I opened a club, and really got great credit for it. No discrimination against African-Americans, against Muslims, against anybody. And it’s a tremendously successful club, and I’m so glad I did it, and I have been given great credit for what I did. And I’m very, very proud of it. And that’s the way I feel. That is the true way I feel.”

He’s very very  proud that one time he opened a club and people didn’t claim he was discriminating? One time? Very proud? And he doesn’t even claim he wasn’t discriminating ever, he just says he never had to admit it. Terrible line Trump, terrible.

He had a few rants like this that were mostly incoherent. Not a good luck Donald. Bad! so sad!


Hillary won this debate by a lot. People on the fence, or people who hadn’t seen anything until now will surely see Trump as an unprepared maniac — unless they don’t care and just like his entertainment value. You know, the people who say, “Fuck it, they’re both the same“. I predict the next debate to be a bloodbath with Trump shooting every rhetorical bullet he has, including Gennifer Flowers.

Ryan Black is a content creator, marketing professional, and political consultant who writes about Progressive Politics.

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