Monday, October 10, 2016

My take on the 2nd presidential debate/knife fight.

The VERY awkward handshake that ended the debate. Screengrab. 

The full debate.

Once again, it's time to react to the presidential debate. Though I was dreading watching it, it turned out to be not quite the bloodbath I was expecting. Don't get me wrong, it was probably the most acrimonious debate I have ever seen, but given the circumstances, I was almost expecting a fist fight to break out. The fact that Clinton and Trump were able to put aside their differences and awkwardly shake hands at the end of it is a minor miracle.  

This wasn't like any other debate I have ever seen. Largely because the first 30 minutes or so was just a greatest hits of both Donald Trump's and Hillary Clinton's scandals. For people that hate either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, there was a lot of red meat thrown your direction. After the first 30 minutes, the debate moved on to more substantive policy questions but the attacks kept coming throughout.

Moderation was decidedly mixed. I can't say that Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz were fair because they weren't. They often argued with Donald Trump and seemed to interrupt him way more than Hillary Clinton. They also admonished the crowd when they cheered Trump and did not do the same when Clinton was cheered. Anderson Cooper also seemed to imply that he thought Donald Trump was literally a rapist, which about sums up the credibility of the national media right now. 

That being said, they also threw some hardballs in Hillary Clinton's direction. Credit where credit is due because the questions about Wikileaks and Clinton's "Basket of Deplorables" speech were pretty tough, and were critical scandals that needed to be brought up. Though the debate was far from fair, they did a much better job than Lester Holt did. Which isn't saying much. The bar is so low that even though they spent a good part of the night bashing Donald Trump, the fact that they hit Hillary Clinton as well should be seen as a credit to their profession, such as it is. 

I do think that this debate has a pretty clear winner, and that person was Donald Trump. We will get into why in a bit, but before that, some housekeeping things. As always I am going to take each candidate individually. I will try to be as unbiased as possible, but keep in mind, I am not an impartial observer. If you think I am interpreting something wrong, you can just watch the full debate posted above. 

Donald Trump:
It's hard to say that this was a great debate for Trump. After all it was a brutal, mudslinging, close range knife fight and both sides came out looking pretty bad. I posted on my personal facebook account that the first 30 minutes of the debate were a great attack add for Gary Johnson, a guy that I won't vote for and don't want as president. Though Clinton's scandals came up as much as Trump, it certainly did not look good for him to have all those negative comments directed his way as well. 

But I still think he won. Why? Well for one, it's clear that Donald Trump was much more prepared for this debate then he was in the last one. He had good answers to policy questions, the few times they came up, and he never stumbled on his words. Most importantly, he delivered his attacks in a calm, rational manner. Unlike the last debate, where it was clear that Hillary Clinton was getting under his skin, he kept it cool. My guess is that the debate coaching he got from Nigel Farage and Mike Pence helped him out. 

Trump also did something utterly brilliant. As I said yesterday morning, the gloves were coming off in this debate. Trump, presumably angry about the Trump Tapes debacle decided that he was going to make Bill Clinton a major part of this debate and he did so in spectacular fashion. He trotted out three alleged victims of Bill Clinton and one woman that Hillary Clinton hurt and hurt deeply. 

These women have some very strong accusations against Bill and Hillary Clinton and I highly recommend you looking up their stories. The are Juanita Broaddrick, who accused Bill Clinton of rape, Paula Jones, who accused Clinton of groping her and Kathleen Wiley, who also accused Clinton of groping her. The last woman wasn't attacked by Bill, but she was negatively effected by Hillary. Kathy Shelton was 12 years old when she was raped and her rapist was defended by Hillary Clinton, who treated her very badly. In short, she accused the raped girl of being, essentially, a slut seeking out older men, which is pretty much universally agreed to be a terrible thing to do, even if it was Clinton's job to do so. 

The presence of these women at the debate, and their press conference before it, seriously blunted the Trump Tapes scandal. After all, even if you go with the most uncharitable interpretation for his words, at worst he's someone who makes rape jokes. These women accuse Bill and Hillary Clinton of doing much, much worse.  Like Trump said, words are different then actions, and the Clinton's actions were pretty horrible. 

Trump was also very aggressive in pushing Hillary Clinton in a way that clearly flustered her. You could see her stomach drop when he said that he was going to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton. Though the left is apoplectic about this idea, it's a popular one sure to shore up his base and it had the added bonus of throwing Clinton severely off her game. (Personally, I'm all for it since I really do think she broke the law and deserves to be punished for it). 

Trump also had his best line of the debate during one of the exchanges. After Clinton said something to the effect that it's lucky that someone with Trump's temperament wasn't in charge of our laws. Trump shot back "You'd be in jail". Visibly shaken, Clinton sat down afterwards. Brutal. 

 I also think that Trump was able to effectively defend himself. During the last debate he spent  too much time trying to defend himself on the tax issue. He sounded way too defensive and left some very obvious attacks on Clinton hanging in the air. He did not do the same thing again last night. When the issue of taxes came up, Trump basically said, "big deal, Hillary's rich buddies like George Soros does the same thing and you didn't do anything about it because he's funding you". Not only did that turn the attention away from him, it doubled as a fairly effective attack on a candidate that is seen as too close to the wealthy, especially for disgruntled Bernie Sanders supporters. 

There was one moment that was fairly shocking for me though as a potential negative for Donald Trump. When asked about Aleppo and Syria, he very publicly and very vehemently disagreed with his VP candidate on the subject of bombing Assad's forces, which Mike Pence is in favor of. This came up in the last debate, and I am on record on supporting Trump over Pence on the issue, but seeing him throw Pence under the bus was rather disconcerting and could cause some friction on the campaign trail. Though Pence congratulated Trump on Twitter after the debate, it was still a very surprising moment, which hopefully won't have a larger impact on the race. 

I was also disappointed that Trump didn't hit Hillary Clinton hard when she came out in favor of gun control. Gun rights is a red meat issue for his supporters but he didn't get to say much of anything about it. Part of that was the moderators, who were trying to move the discussion on, but still, he should have said something there. 

Overall though Trump had a good night. He kept calm and managed to deflect one of the more serious attacks on him. He also was very effective in giving people reasons not to vote for Hillary Clinton. And he was just simply more prepared then he was during the first debate. 

Hillary Clinton:
As bad as things were for the Clinton's last night, I don't think that Hillary actually did that bad in terms of performance. She was under immense pressure, and though she didn't quite handle it as well as Trump did, she actually did score some points. After all, she gave almost as bad as she got and hit Trump hard on his various scandals. Her greatest hits included Trump's feud with Khizar Khan, his taxes and his various accusations of racism, all added in on top of the Trump Tapes scandal. 

Though Trump's counter punches were savage, these attacks Clinton launched probably do have an effect. Remember, not everyone has been paying attention to the election closely. Some people are just tuning in now and may have missed these scandals, so bringing them up hurts Trump. The problem is that Trump's attacks were just so much more damaging and noteworthy then Clinton's. 

As always, Hillary Clinton sounded knowledgeable and informed when it comes to policy. I don't agree with her, but it's undeniable that she knows what she is talking about most of the time. This was a huge advantage in the last debate, but since Trump did his homework this time around, the advantage was mostly erased. 

Clinton was clearly flustered in this debate. There were a couple of times where she stumbled on her words and took awhile to think about what she said before she said it. Given how extreme the circumstances were and how tough Trump was with her, the fact that she only seemed flustered is rather impressive. Critically, she managed to keep her cool as well and did not attack Trump in a way that would make her look and sound shrill. 

I do have to say that the format of the debate kind of hurt her as well. Donald Trump is a large and tall man at 6'2" while Hillary Clinton is a more modest 5'7". Most of the night when both were standing Trump towered over Clinton and struck an imposing figure, often behind Hillary. It made her look weak compared to him. That's hardly fair but it also probably has a negative effect. 

I also noticed that Clinton seemed to sit down a lot more than Donald Trump when it wasn't her time to talk. Though Clinton seemed reasonably healthy last night, you have to wonder if she wasn't a little tired. Perhaps I noticed it more than a "normal" person would, since I am intensely following this election, but it seemed to be a negative for her as well. There was also a moment where a fly landed on her and she didn't seem to react to it at all. That could be nothing, but some are trying to spin it as proof that she's still sick. I don't buy it myself, but it certainly was rather surreal seeing it. Both things could help to reignite the questions about her health.

The largest problem I saw with Clinton though is that she wanted this debate to be all about Donald Trump. She had her attacks all planned and she hoped that Trump wasn't going to hit her back. With the Clinton accusers in the audience, that didn't happen. This debate was supposed to be a referendum on Donald Trump, like the last one was, but instead it was a referendum on Hillary Clinton. Clinton got some punches in too, but the people that watched the debate are more likely to remember the attacks that she received.  

Before I say anything else, I do have to say there was at least one positive moment during the debate. At the end one of the audience members asked if there was anything good that the candidates could say about each other. Both responded. Clinton said that she thought that Trump had done a fine job with his family and Trump said he admired the fact that Clinton is a hard fighter who doesn't quit and doesn't give up. 

Amazingly both of them seemed rather sincere when they were asked that, and the moment made both of them look a lot more human and presidential. The fact that both of their complements were 100% true helps. Even the most dedicated haters have to admit that Trump's kids, especially Ivanka, are great people and you can't accuse Hillary Clinton of being a quitter. The candidates were also able to put aside their differences to give each other that awkward handshake pictured above. It was a great moment in the toughest debate in a brutal campaign and I sincerely hope we see more of it. 

Still, I think that Trump won this debate. It wasn't pretty, but on performance he was simply better than Clinton was. He stayed calm, cool and collected and he didn't have any major gaffes that I could see. Though the debate wasn't a train wreck for Clinton by any standards, she was more flustered and off guard then she was at any point in this campaign. 

Above all else, Donald Trump is a showman. He proved that last night. The debate was a spectacle and probably not a great moment in United States history because of how viscous it was, but it was entertaining at least. People will be talking about it for years to come.

Will it effect the race? I think so. Trump seems to have put the Trump Tapes scandal to bed, along with his tax issue as well. He will also convince some of the never trumper's to stick with him, and the debate may shame a few of those that fled over the weekend. If nothing else he proved that he is still in this race and trying to win it, which is the kind of reassurance his supporters need. I see this debate as righting the ship after a very tough weekend. 

I also think that Trump's attacks will have a stronger impact than the media is predicting. I watched some of the post debate coverage on Fox News and pollster Frank Luntz was there with his focus group. Here's how they reacted... 
Though I don't know how the polls will react long term, I do think that this debate should reverse Trump's recent dip in the polls. Will it be enough to win him the White House? Who knows at this point. Trump has survived everything that has been thrown at him so far, but he still hasn't quite pushed himself over the line. Clinton hasn't put Trump away either. It's probably going to take another major scandal for either of them to lose enough support for this election to not be a barn burner. But I will be right there covering it until the end...

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