Fading fast in the rearview mirror is the spectacle that was the third, and thankfully, last Presidential debate for 2016. Be honest, how many of you really gave up 2 precious hours to watch that? I taped it so I could replay every insightful exchange on the most important issues facing the country. Oh wait, there really weren’t any such exchanges! Instead, both churned out oft-repeated phrases and comments from their respective campaign playbook and occasionally landed a quotable one liner –
- Hillary’s accusation that V. Putin “would rather have a puppet as President” levelled at Trump
- Donald’s reference to the Wikileaks story “John Podesta says you have terrible instincts. Bernie Sanders says you have terrible judgment. I agree with both of them.”
In the days following this debate, the general consensus of the media is that HRC was the winner.¹ While I don’t actually disagree with that sentiment, I think that the bar for winning was already set so low. Hillary’s greatest opponent was never going to come from the Republican ranks, but rather, as we all saw, was the strong populist progressive challenge that Bernie Sanders gave her for the Democratic nomination itself. Could she have wished for a more unstable, inexperienced, shoot from Twitter, nincompoop to contest her path to the White House. Not in her wildest dreams!
Playing his part flawlessly, Trump, who we should remember won the Republican party nomination against double-digit contenders, continues to speak out and subsequently receives all manner of media coverage, moving from bad to worse. The recent allegations of sexual assault, while being vigorously denied, should, you would think, give pause to many undecideds, especially women, and make even his backers feel uncomfortable. And yet, in this hyper-partisan presidential campaign, his supporters stand fast with their man and make comments like “Look, they’re all against him—the media, the mainstream media, Washington—they’re all up against Trump, so they’re gonna throw everything they have at him”.²
It is clear to me that Donald lost the debate. Why? In part because he failed, yet again, to stay focused on the task at hand – in this case, appearing Presidential. He has very poor debating skills and cannot seem to help himself when he feels in the least bit slighted. His so-called policy statements on issues like immigration, the economy, foreign affairs, domestic racism, etc, all lack detail and explanation. Instead, he embraces the faux reality of his experiences as a TV celebrity wherein the short, sharp sound-byte is the most important element to keep people talking about you. What he needed most of all was someone to declare clearly and loudly to him, you’re fired!
Unfortunately, Trump was not the only loser on Wednesday night. In an earlier blog, http://paulswhyte.com/politics-matters/there-can-be-only-one, I said “This will be her best last chance to rise above the personal and boldly and clearly state what her Presidency would look like for all Americans, and by extension, what the world could expect. …This is her Yes I Can moment!”. By that measure, her performance fell far short. This can in large part be attributed to her debate tactic which was to use mimicry of Trump’s own tactics – caustic remarks, interjections, etc. Not really Presidential-like. It is very evident that these 2 candidates despise one another. There were no pre or post debate pleasantries, not even a handshake at the end.
Perhaps the real losers on that night were the American voter and American democracy. The voter, particularly the undecided, could legitimately bemoan the lack of in-depth clarity around most issues important to them. The already committed voters would simply read into the performances a confirmation that their candidate remains the better choice. As for American democracy, it took its latest hit directly from Trump, who claims that the media is biased against him and that the election is already rigged against him, when he said “I will look at it at the time.” “I will keep you in suspense.” Indeed, the most repeated headline post-debate was about this statement. Subsequent attempts to clarify the remark have only had the effect of keeping it in the spotlight, and believe it or not, making it worse. The very next day, Trump said
It was an ugly, brutal assault on yet another one of the fundamental tenets of democracy – that elections are fair.
All the other topics raised by the moderator in the debate now seem to sink into the black emptiness of forgetfulness. Nothing new was revealed in their respective answers on the Supreme Court, immigration and borders, the economy, Syria. What struck me most were some of those important issues not even raised for discussion like, the widening inequality gap, a crumbling infrastructure, domestic racism, and most glaring by its avoidance, climate change.
With less than 3 weeks until election day, it is hard not to feel a general fatigue about this whole Presidential contest which has been going on now for almost 18 months [Hillary announced her intentions on April 1, 2015!]. Given the latest poll numbers which overwhelmingly show HRC winning the Presidency, it is to bad they cannot vote today and just get it over with. Just today, The New Yorker magazine editorial board wrote an excellent endorsement piece on why they are supporting Hillary Clinton.³
Post-script: HRC’s campaign is now spending more money and time on expanding her winning margin by actually contesting in historic Red States. Furthermore, there is more evidence that the Democrats will easily win the Senate and maybe make strong inroads into the Republican majority in the House of Representatives as well.
- http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/10/surprise-donald-trump-supporters-dont-believe-his-newest-accusers-either See also, https://www.bustle.com/articles/189922-the-7-worst-excuses-donald-trump-supporters-use-to-defend-him-against-the-sexual-assault-allegations