Twitter goes bananas: From Hillary Clinton's pantsuit to Donald Trump's snorting, the social-media hits and misses

The sniffles, the tax returns, the pantsuit, the birtherism and the rest of the Twitter firestorm of Debate No. 1

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published September 27, 2016 9:20AM (EDT)

 (AP/Patrick Semansky)
(AP/Patrick Semansky)

Monday night’s presidential debate between Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was almost certainly a smashing success in terms of TV ratings. If the social-media response is any indication, both candidates had more than their fair share of memorable moments.

Let’s go to the Twitter roundup!

Before the debate:

These two observations were brought to us prior to the debate by comedians Leslie Jones and Franchesca Ramsey. The latter’s quip is particularly well-taken, considering that social media was set afire with debate talk long before the event itself actually started.

Clinton’s controversial fashion choice:

Let’s be honest: The first thing most of us noticed when Clinton and Trump took the stage was Clinton’s red pantsuit. It was a visually arresting choice that you could either love or hate, but was impossible to ignore.

Trump has the sniffles:

By contrast, no one seemed thrilled with Trump’s sniffling. Indeed, “sniffles” began trending on Twitter shortly after Trump’s first snort. And in light of the ongoing hubbub over Clinton’s health concerns, the timing couldn’t have been worse for the Republican nominee. As one of the above tweeters correctly pointed out, if you’re a presidential candidate, it isn’t a good sign when the first hashtag out of a presidential debate involves one of your physical tics.

Trumped-up trickle-down economics:

On the other hand, Clinton’s attempt to make “Trumped-up trickle-down” economics into a catchphrase met with mixed success. Certainly the quip left a strong impression, but the consensus seems to be that it felt forced. Notice how FunnyOrDie tweeted about the comment 20 minutes after the other two tweets; it was still in the ether and still proved to be at best partially effective.

NAFTA, not good:

There seemed to be a broad consensus that Trump had Clinton on the ropes when he brought up the North American Free Trade Agreement. Even the normally leftist Cenk Uygur (of “The Young Turks” fame) pointed out that “she’s losing right now” when Trump held her feet to the fire on this issue. If you were a Clinton supporter, this was a wince-inducing moment and Twitter definitely picked up on that.

Trump was against global warming before he was for it (or something):

When Clinton called on social media posters to fact-check her opponent, they rose to the occasion, starting with multiple well-placed sources responding to Trump’s denial that he once claimed global warming was a hoax created by the Chinese.

Oh, and about crime in New York City:

Salon’s CEO (full disclosure!) offered this information about Trump’s apocalyptic pronouncements regarding New York crime rates, which have trended broadly downward for 25 years, across the tenures of multiple mayors and various policing strategies.

Lester Holt, not so much:

Lester Holt’s performance as debate moderator did not receive glowing reviews on social media — to put it mildly! The bulk of the tweets that mentioned Holt seemed disappointed at his hands-off approach, implying that he was barely there at all to maintain order amid the interrupting and shouting. It brings to mind similar criticisms made of Jim Lehrer after he hosted the first Barack Obama-Mitt Romney debate in 2012.

Maybe Trump paid taxes! Who knows?

This was not the first time Trump has cited his current IRS audit as a defense for not releasing his tax returns, and naturally people jumped all over this on Twitter. That said, Trump also gave them something novel on which to focus — namely, his offhand reference to having been under audit for 15 years. Perhaps it wasn’t the smartest thing for him to brag about.

Forget the tax returns! What about your emails?

Trump's best moment, at least for his fans, might have come when he called out Clinton for allegedly deleting 33,000 emails, and the seismic response certainly registered on Twitter. One may agree or disagree with the soundness of his analogy, but it certainly underscored the fact that both candidates have serious issues with their trustworthiness. Clinton did not benefit when Trump reminded the American people of this.

So there were bills that didn't get paid — sue me!

To paraphrase Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this was the proverbial dog that didn’t bark. For most other presidential candidates (particularly self-proclaimed billionaires), it would be toxic to admit that you refused to pay working-class Americans who served in your employ. Trump, on the other hand, breezed right through the question, a fact that didn’t elude some of Twitter’s more perceptive observers.

Born in the USA, at last:

Naturally, it's most fitting to close on the topic that burned through Twitter during the final portion of the debate — namely, Trump’s past role in spreading birther conspiracy theories about Barack Obama (who was born in Honolulu in 1961, just for the record). While the tweeters’ stance on the subject was pretty much predetermined by whether they already supported Trump, they all seemed to agree that it dominated discussion as soon as it came up.

What’s the overall verdict? On a first reading of social media, it seems that more of the focus was on Trump’s bugaboos (notably his long history of wild allegations and looseness with the facts) and his respiratory difficulties than on Clinton’s baggage, although the latter hardly escaped attention. It remains to be seen whether this will work for or against Trump, but once again this debate kept the spotlight shining directly on him rather than his opponent.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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