The presidential debate on Monday marked a historic night. It was the first to feature a woman as one of the major party nominees, and yet, somewhat unsurprisingly, Donald Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton 22 times in the span of 26 minutes, according to a report from USA Today. Considering the limited talking time during the first debate, Clinton being constantly interrupted could have potentially weakened her platform. However, given that, according to a CNN/ORC Poll of voters who watched the debate, 62 percent thought Clinton won (while only 27 percent thought Trump was the victor), her tactic of patiently letting Trump interrupt and go off the rails worked to her benefit.
According to a report from Vox, by the end of the debate, Trump had interrupted Clinton 51 times, whereas Clinton had only interrupted him 17 times. Including the 19 interruptions from moderator Lester Holt, Clinton was interrupted 70 times throughout the night. And yet even with those speaking minutes stolen from her, a Politico Caucus post-debate survey of insiders revealed that 99 percent of Democrats agreed Clinton won. Even a majority (57 percent) of Republicans thought she did, too. This makes it clear that, due to word economy and preparation for the debate, Clinton didn't need to interrupt Trump in order to get her points across to voters.
This debate certainly wasn't the first time Clinton has experienced more interruptions than her male peers and moderators. As recently as earlier this month during the Commander-in-Chief Forum on NBC, Matt Lauer appeared to many to interrupt and speak over her more aggressively than her male opponent. However, the significance of the first presidential debate only highlights the inequities in speaking time.
Yet had Clinton attempted to steamroll Trump back, he might not have dug himself in a hole by saying gems such as "I think my strongest asset, by far, is my temperament. I have a winning temperament."
If Clinton had shifted her energy toward actively fighting the interruptions, Trump might not have had the chance to address the DNC hacking by responding,
She’s saying Russia, Russia, Russia. It could also be China. It could also be somebody sitting on their bed who weighs 400 pounds. You don’t know who hacked into the DNC. But what did we learn from documents? We learned Bernie Sanders was taken advantage of by your people.
Ultimately, despite attempts to silence her, Clinton not only took the interruptions in stride, but weaponized Trump's tendency to ramble by allowing him to expose himself. While his tendency to interrupt is likely both a symptom of his misogyny and dominant personality, Clinton wisely allowed him to take up more space. With that added talking time, Trump made a number of bombastic, inaccurate, and un-presidential remarks, like lying about his past global warming denial, and effectively lost the debate.
Sometimes, the best way to fight sexism is to harness and subvert it, and that's exactly what Clinton did during the first presidential debate.