A record number of Americans watched the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. A tweet by Prof. Randy Barnett summed the results up nicely: “I am old enough to remember when Donald Trump was the only Republican candidate who could hold Hillary Clinton accountable in the debates.”
T A Frank covered most of the details in his day after analysis on Vanity Fair’s “Hive”. To his account of Trump’s trouncing, I would add a few items. The discussion about President Obama’s birth certificate soaked up time. What difference does Obama’s alleged ineligibility for the White House make at this point? Clinton and the moderator brought up the topic because they wanted him to go on about it and eat up time he might have spent attacking Clinton’s record. He obliged. They had complete control because Trump had not even prepped an Intro to Politician Skills level solution: “You, Secretary Clinton, started it. I finished it. May we move on to today’s problems now?”
Then there was the temperament moment. Trump actually claimed that his greatest attribute for the office of the President of the United States is his temperament. Even his supporters don’t believe that. They began to like him precisely because he did not have a politician’s temperament. He was going to shake things up, hold the career politicians accountable — and nothing was going to save Hillary Clinton in a debate with Donald Trump. Alas, superior skill and practice came to her rescue.
Trump did not hold Clinton to account for anything beyond trade. He scowled when she talked and interrupted her constantly. Recall that presidential debates are about optics and ratings, not policies or positions. Only the pundits pay particular attention to parsing statements. Everyone else watches for the character tells, and Trump provided.
Any man in business knows that constantly interrupting women can get him sent to endless political correctness seminars or fired unless the man is in a position of extreme power. Then he can get away with it all, see Bill Clinton or former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes. We can have various complaints against this, but it is still true, and Trump is too used to lording power over people.
To advance her career, Hillary Clinton does not need to put up with the conduct of Donald Trump the way she had to endure the misdeeds of her husband. In fact, finally — finally! she thinks — her ambition requires her to stand up to a misogynist. That shoulder shimmy might be the first truly genuine reaction I have ever seen from her.
It made an impression. It was the first meme to come out of the night, impressive when you consider it happened in the last quarter of the debate. It was the first ad out the next day.
But the real damage is still unfolding. Clinton mentioned Alicia Machado, the first Miss Universe crowned after Trump bought the pageant. It was a set for a spike.
Clinton now has a lovely mother and professional who is accustomed to being in the spotlight appearing on all the talk shows to tell a horrible tale of Trump’s views of women. The accompanying video is precisely targeted to the uncertain and undecided, yet the viewer does not know this is a Clinton ad until the last frame. Even the YouTube account is brilliant. “The Briefing” sounds news-ish, and in this age of constant internet mag start-ups, it gives the impression that it is one of those. Viewers do not know that it is a hillaryclinton.com account until they hover over the account or click to subscribe.
This is why the Right needed to be smart. This is a level of political strategy that is specific to the experienced hands of the Clinton machine. Generic Democrats do not do this. They think of “clever” ads like the Stand With Hillary country songs, or Your First Time with Lena Dunham. This year, Katy Perry is voting naked. (And as soon as that video got attention Madonna jumped on the troupe in her endless and doomed quest to refuse maturity.)
The Clinton machine knows its craft and has been preparing for this run for a very long time. Republicans needed skill but fell for flash.
While polls had tightened prior to the debate, Trump took Clinton’s bait and returned the public’s attention to him, which in a contest of who is the lesser evil is not a winning move. If the polls do not shift in her favour, then yes, we are headed for a Brexit type poll surprise in which voter dissatisfaction with the elites trumps all else. But if polling does shift back to Clinton, then the surprise on election night will be of a completely different sort.
(Image: Bill B)