Athens, Ga. — Edward Panetta, professor of communication studies at the University of Georgia, has been the director of the Georgia Debate Union for 27 years. During that period, UGA has qualified 50 teams for the National Debate Tournament. In 2007, he was named the National Debate Coach of the Year.
Panetta does research in the area of argumentation studies and the assessment of public argument in political campaigns and in environmental controversies. Below are Panetta’s thoughts about Monday’s presidential debate more from the viewpoint of a debate critique rather than political substance.
To contact Panetta for more insight, he can be reached at 706-542-4893 or by email at [email protected].
Performance of Hillary Clinton
Throughout the debate, Hillary Clinton exhibited a forceful non-verbal presence. She was disciplined and did not regularly interrupt Donald Trump — thus accenting the gendered nature of Donald Trump’s rhetorical style. She was quite effective in telling stories about average citizens that served to humanize her for the audience. She effectively spoke to younger voters and African-Americans in the debate when addressing climate change, student loans, the birther issue and stop-and-frisk policy. Substantively, she delivered better answers than Donald Trump on a full range of issues in the last hour of the debate. For example, when pressed she was far stronger than Trump in explaining the value of the Iranian nuclear agreement.
Performance of Donald Trump
Donald Trump’s insistence on regularly interrupting Hillary Clinton will not play well with voters with gender concerns. He struggled with controlling his visual presence during the debate. These elements of his performance feed the Clinton campaign’s narrative that he is temperamentally unsuited to be president. He started the debate by effectively targeting the voters in the rust belt with references to voters in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Additionally, he was quick to push the need for a more effective trade policy and attacked life-long politicians. While he kept up the attack on life-long politicians he lost focus on policy as the debate moved along. In place of a policy discussion he found himself drawn into a number of discussions that have little to do with his core message of improving trade and immigration policy. Viewers who tuned in for the first half hour probably left the debate with a positive impression of Donald Trump. Viewers who watched the full debate were left with the impression of a debater who was not able to sustain a set of coherent and full messages on issues ranging from gender to nuclear policy to race relations.
Assessing the outcome: While Donald Trump was strong in the first 20 minutes of the debate he faltered badly as the debate progressed.