Hillary Clinton employed a Bill Belichick-style game plan to win the first Presidential debate last night.

From its careful inception, flawless execution, and even her perfectly poised poker face, Hillary Clinton’s debate game plan was a page right out of the Coach Bill Belichick’s playbook.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at New England Patriots
Bill Belichick

Mirroring Belichick’s famous attention to detail, Clinton’s game plan was carefully prepared. No detail overlooked.  Different strategies considered.  Congenial and argumentative Trumps prepared for. Mock debates held at 9:00pm to help Clinton adjust to the time of day of the debate.  Nothing left to chance.

She even prepared for Trump using her absence from the campaign trail to prepare for the debate against her.

“Yes, I was preparing for the debate,” replied Clinton.  “I was preparing to be President of the United States.”

Offensively, Clinton mixed things up.  At times she promoted her policies.  Other times she exploited Trump’s vulnerabilities.

clinton-2She recalled her small-business father and the need to grow the middle class.  She said jobs would be created by becoming the world’s clean energy leader.  Race relations would be improved by acknowledging systemic racism and restoring trust between police and communities.  America would be safer with passage of common sense gun control legislation.

She exploited Trump’s vulnerabilities by calling on him to continue 40 years of Presidential tradition by releasing his tax returns. What was he hiding? Was he not as rich as he claimed? Not as charitable? Did he not pay taxes last year?

If he wanted to use his business acumen as qualification for the Presidency, what about his businesses using bankruptcy six times?  His refusal to pay workers who did business for him?

Defensively, in Belichick-style, Clinton allowed Trump to gain yards, but prevented knockout scores by tightening up in the Red Zone.

Trump effectively drove the ball down the field as he hammered away on job loss and trade. He was clear, passionate, and articulate in describing jobs fleeing to Mexico, trade deals ruining manufacturing, and China expertly devaluing currency.

With a strategic eye to swing states, he claimed Ohio and Pennsylvania have been devastated by NAFTA, with the number of manufacturing jobs plummeting 30 to 50% in those states. He pointed out Clinton’s husband, President Bill Clinton, had signed that trade deal into law and that Clinton herself had once called the Trans Pacific Partnership the “gold standard” of trade deals.

But Clinton’s defense tightened.

She labeled his policies nothing more than “Trumped-up Trickle Down Economics.”  He did not refute her.  Instead, he assured her that his proposed tax breaks and  easing of regulations for the rich would create a tremendous number of jobs by putting billions into the economy.

She got him to say it:  help the rich first, and then that help will benefit the poor.

She replied that this approach was what burst the housing bubble in 2008, and that Trump had been publicly grateful for that downturn.  Trump did not deny it.

“It’s called business,” he said. Purchasing real estate at low prices on the backs of millions of Americans who had lost their homes … just business.

Turnover.

Trump was convincing in his claims that the Federal government wastes money and that the country’s crumbling infrastructure needs to be repaired.  He pointed out the $6 trillion U.S. dollars spent in the Middle East could have been used to rebuild the United States, especially New York City’s airports, which he claimed when compared to new Middle East airports were like third-world countries.

Trump was driving, but again Clinton’s defense tightened.

Who was going to pay for those infrastructure repairs when people like Donald Trump avoid paying taxes?

She pointed out the few Trump tax returns that were public showed him paying no Federal taxes. Astonishingly, Trump did not deny it.  His ability to avoid paying taxes?

“Shows I’m smart,” he boasted.

Are the rest of us who have to pay our taxes?  I guess we’re not so smart.

Another turnover.

Clinton’s Belichick-style game plan was complete all the way down to her expression.  Like the coach with the press and on the sidelines, the split-screen showed Clinton revealing no emotions and no response to what was happening on the other side of the screen.

No Al Gore-type sighs of disdain. No grimaces, frowns, and head shaking that Trump constantly employed.

Instead, poise and restraint.  The confident discipline to stick with a game plan she knew would work over the course of a 90 minute debate.

If Belichick and Trump weren’t friends, he might have been proud of her.

Rex Ryan comes to mind when thinking of who to compare Trump’s approach to.

Emotional.

Undisciplined.

Over reliance on big talk.

In contrast to Clinton’s shrewd preparation that allowed her to retain her composure, Trump’s lack of preparation caused him to tense up and say the same thing over and over, louder and louder, angrier and angrier.

Trump frequently interrupted Clinton and repeatedly talked over debate moderator Lester Holt.  This was especially revealing on the issue of race relations. It appeared lost to Trump that he might demonstrate positive race relations by treating the black man moderating the debate with respect.

CNN reported that over 60% of those polled thought Hillary Clinton won the debate.  18 out of 20 undecided Florida voters CNN assembled to watch the debate gave the victory to Clinton.  The appearance of a sour looking Donald Trump personally appearing in the spin room afterwards, despite his assertions to the contrary, revealed that he agreed with them.

The self-proclaimed winner had lost.

With two more Presidential debates to come, and the election six weeks from today, there is plenty of room for twists and turns in a race polls show is too close to call.  A single debate, like a single game in a regular season, can be pivotal, but by itself doesn’t make or break a season.

But, if Hillary Clinton continues her Belichick-style approach, if she puts last night behind her and focuses on the work she and her campaign team must do between now and election day, she will become the next President of the United States.

To do that, she’s borrowing one more thing from Coach Belichick today.  She’s saying to everyone who will listen:

“We’re on to St. Louis.”

The site of the next Presidential debate.