Nothing like a look into the abyss to focus the mind. Before last night’s debate the Trump campaign was on life support. And that’s giving him the benefit of the doubt. The primary cause was his disastrous performance at the first debate. The secondary cause was the release of the Billy Bush video in which he seemed to be bragging about sexual assault.
After the debate, pollster Frank Luntz said that Trump revived his campaign and was back in the race. (Via Maggie’s Farm) Luntz pointed out that Trump was mostly on the offense and that Hillary was playing defense.
Who had the greater positive impact on your voting choice tonight?— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) October 10, 2016
• 21 say Trump
• 9 say Clinton#Debate2016 pic.twitter.com/wAwekyA97n
Gerald Seib, a fair-minded commentator if ever there was one, said that Trump had been reeling but that, with the debate, he had regained his footing.
By now, everyone is spinning as fast as they can, but we will not really know how well Trump did until polls come out at the end of the week.
I will do you the favor of ignoring the substance of the debate. And the fact checking. Because the debate was about something else. The Trump team strategy was to make Hillary Clinton appear to be small, weak and defensive.
In the first debate, Trump was subdued and lacked stamina. To me the split screen made Hillary look as though she had been propped up—to look as tall as Trump. The image worked to her advantage. Since the candidates did not interact physically, the size and height differential did not enter into play.
Last night Trump was larger than life, more aggressive and more disrespectful. He did it without using his repugnant epithets.
In terms of posture, he hovered over Clinton and seemed to lurk behind her. At times, she seemed caught off guard and even rattled. Her answers started to sound pre-packaged. She attempted to laugh it off, but she seemed to be defensive and fake.
One has noted, scrupulously, the Trump does not bring any governmental experience to his candidacy. One ought also to note that Clinton’s experience, such as it was, does not render her qualified either.
Trump wanted to make Hillary look like an empty pants-suit. The liberal commentariat was appalled. If the Luntz focus group of undecided voters was any indication, the public was tuning into Trump’s message.
So, another Trump showed up last night. One suspects that he got a new debate coach—Roger Ailes in place of Kellyanne Conway—and that he was so afraid of looking like the biggest loser that he even deigned to prepare. Beyond having something, anything, to say, he had to show that he was stronger and more powerful. Considering that Hillary’s campaign slogan is “Stronger Together” Trump’s strategy seems to have worked for him.
I would add two notes on the substance. First, the question of “open borders” never came up. Supposedly, Hillary Clinton had declared herself in favor of them in the Wikileaked tape. For reasons that escape me, Trump never mentioned them.
Also, on the question of taped conversations, does anyone else remember one Rashid Khalidi. Currently a Columbia Professor Khalidi was a Palestinian activist with ties to the PLO. When Khalidi was leaving Chicago for Columbia his friends threw him a going-away party. At the party Barack Obama offered some remarks. The remarks were taped. The Los Angeles Times retains possession of the tape. It has never released the tape. If the nation is clamoring for more tapes about Trump’s appalling behavior with women why were so few people clamoring for the release of the Obama tape? Surely, a glimpse into the Obama attitude toward Israel and Palestinian terrorists would have been highly relevant to our understanding of the president’s foreign policy.
Be that as it may, before the debate many pundits were saying that Trump needed to come across as contrite and humbled. Instead, Trump doubled down on outrageous, bringing several of Bill Clinton’s victims to the debate and denouncing Hillary for laughing about getting a child rapist off. Shades of Roger Ailes?
Trump barely apologized during the debate. When he did he was not very contrite or humble. He seems to have been told that being too contrite would have made him look weak. And Trump could not afford to look weak.
Before the first debate Trump’s coaches must have told him not to attack Hillary directly. They did not want another Rick Lazio moment. Thus, he looked weak and ineffectual. He allowed Hillary Clinton to loom large over the proceedings. By all objective standards she won the first debate.
Before yesterday’s debate, Trump’s campaign was in disarray. He had been losing support since the first debate and the Billy bush video aggravated an existing condition. His vice presidential running mate looked like he might jump ship. So, by last night, Trump had effectively, nothing to lose. So he went for it, aggressively. Many commentators were appalled, but the public seemed to respond.
Rather than defend himself against the charge that he is a hater, Trump declared that Hillary’s “basket of [irredeemable] deplorables” remark, showed her to be, as I recall, filled with hatred.
Like it or not, it was a clever tactic.
As Luntz said, Trump is now back in the game. How much his debate performance will move the poll numbers… we do not know.