Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton meet for their first presidential...

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton meet for their first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead on Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Rick Wilking

The show has moved on, but the reverberations from the presidential debate at Hofstra University will dominate the campaign until the next one.

More than 80 million watched the debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on TV and many millions more followed a livestream on the internet, and the audience largely lasted until the end of those 98 minutes. That’s how riveting, important and necessary the contest was to an electorate that is deeply divided and largely uncertain about the future.

After the debate Monday night, Clinton stayed on Long Island for a celebration with supporters at a watch party in Westbury, while Trump never made it to a rally where hundreds of fans waited for him.

But as both candidates resume campaigning in swing states far from New York, we are left with a singular impression: The remaining two debates must be more than great entertainment.

Scripted attack lines and witty rejoinders provide frissons of excitement and endless replays. But voters need more to help make up their minds in what might be the most consequential election of our lifetimes.

They need a deeper discussion of each candidate’s economic plans. Under Clinton, who exactly would pay more taxes? How will she pay for tuition-free public college? Why has she changed her mind about trade deals? How will Trump create jobs and pay for his tax cuts? The billionaire needs to answer legitimate questions about his business practices, stop promoting his new Washington hotel and release his tax returns. And the vanishing middle class — referred to several times by Clinton but just once by Trump — must get prime-time treatment. The hollowing-out of the core of our country cannot continue.

Voters need to hear more about the Clinton Foundation and Trump University, and they deserve a foreign policy discussion that goes beyond Trump trying to deny his initial support of the invasion of Iraq. They need to know each candidate’s plans for handling many vexing problems around the globe, not simply their criticisms.

What voters don’t need is Trump praising himself for not dredging up Bill Clinton’s marital infidelities, then threatening to do so in the future. That would drag a soiled campaign deeper into the gutter. Nor should he double down on indefensible comments about the weight of a former Miss Universe winner.

Trump must exhibit more self-discipline, and not reflexively bite at Clinton’s every provocation. He must show he has a capacity for self-reflection, and is able to say he was wrong on something like the birther issue, he learned and has changed. It’s an issue of character and temperament, a test he’s failing. Whether she is sincere or not, really means it or sees it as politically necessary, Clinton finally apologized for her email practices, saying that was a mistake. That counts for something.

Early voting has begun in some states. We hope the next two debates are more illuminating and thatTrump shows up. Rudy Giuliani, whose comment that Clinton is “too stupid” to be president reflects his fading relevance, said Trump should skip them unless moderators promise to treat him fairly. It’s terrible advice. Following it would be a gross disservice to voters. Trump should focus on debate prep, not phantom problems.

With six weeks to go, that’s not too much to ask. — The editorial board


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