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Clinton shines in first debate, and not just in comparison to Trump

For those who wondered whether Hillary Clinton could go toe-to-toe with the volcanic and unpredictable Donald Trump, Monday night's debate was the moment such doubts were put to rest. The Democratic nominee displayed the poise of a serious and experienced politician, using self-assured humour and hard facts against her inexperienced Republican opponent.

She accomplished this knowing that, if she did succeed in winning the debate, her many detractors would barely begrudge her the victory. She accepted these terms and forged ahead nonetheless, and in doing so demonstrated that she is more formidable than she is given credit for. It was, above all, a turning point for a politician who has often come across as stiff and impersonal.

Yes, she missed opportunities and at times was on the defensive, particularly at the beginning of the debate. She inexplicably did not have a direct answer to Mr. Trump's incorrect assertion that free trade has ruined the American economy. And her counterpoint to his calls for law and order – in particular for the return of stop-and-frisk police tactics that have been declared unconstitutional – was platitudinous and passionless.

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But she made no more errors than any candidate in a two-person debate would normally commit. And as the debate wore on, and the brittle Mr. Trump's natural defensiveness started to surface, Ms. Clinton got stronger and stronger.

She nailed her role as the first woman in a presidential debate by allowing a loud, bullying man to interrupt her and talk over her, and then using the silences to get her point across, and the knife in, in a calm and intelligent fashion. She demonstrated the maturity required for the job of president by not rising to the bait in Mr. Trump's personal attacks, a quality he simply does not possess.

In the end, she reduced Mr. Trump to a man complaining weakly about the quality of his microphone.

There are two more debates to go, and Ms. Clinton could yet falter. But the momentum is now in her favour. Voters who don't want to see Mr. Trump in office, but who harbour doubts, and even animosity, regarding Ms. Clinton, should look at her again through fresh eyes.

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