Monday, September 26, 2016

The Donald Chronicles: A Disqualifying Debate

Due to unforeseen circumstances, I was otherwise engaged during the presidential debate.  So this, for the record, is a selection of responses by folks who did watch it...

Andrew Sullivan:

"I was afraid that Trump’s charisma and stage presence and salesmanship might outshine Hillary Clinton’s usually tepid and wonkish instincts. I feared that the facts wouldn’t matter; that a debate would not take place. And it is to Clinton’s great credit that she prepared, and he didn’t, and that she let him hang himself.

His utter lack of preparation; his doubling down on transparent lies; his foreign-policy recklessness; his racial animosity; his clear discomfort with the kind of exchange of views that is integral to liberal democracy; his instinctual belligerence — all these suggest someone who has long lived in a deferential bubble that has become filled with his own reality.

Clinton was not great at times; her language was occasionally stilted; she missed some obvious moments to go in for the kill; but she was solid and reassuring and composed. I started tonight believing she needed a game-changer to alter the trajectory of this race. I may, of course, be wrong, trapped in my own confirmation bias and bubble — but I thought she did just that."

Jonathan Chiat:

"How did Clinton come across? She maintained her composure and her dignity, something no Republican who confronted (or was bullied by) Trump in the primary debates managed to do. She had facts at her disposal, she apologized for her poor choice of email systems, and she conveyed that she is sane and competent. The contrast between an obviously and eminently qualified public servant and a ranting bully was as stark as any presidential debate in American history."

Josh Marshall:

Clinton clearly went into this debate not looking for one or two big "Have you no decency" moments but rather looking to hit him with a rat-tat-tat series of taunts and jabs to see if she could get him to lose his cool and throw him off his game. It ended up happening a lot more quickly than I expected. No more than fifteen minutes in he was getting visibly angry. And he stayed that way for the next hour plus.

From maybe a half hour into the debate Clinton had almost entirely seized the initiative. She was attacking while he responded, sometimes angrily, sometimes with new attacks and very often by doubling down on demonstrable falsehoods he's been pilloried for for months. At various moments he shuffled in and out of parts of his stump speech. But through most of the exchange he constantly interrupted Clinton, talked over her, denied claims she made which are easily validated. In terms of body language and style it was thermonuclear Rick Lazio.

Clinton was poised and unflappable. She needled him but not in a way that seemed nasty or petulant. She was poised throughout. It was equally clear that he had no clear strategy for what to do.

 I'm not sure this is any game changer. It simply confirms what a lot of people already know: Trump is not suited to be President. Clinton is competent, prepared and in this exchange buoyant and dynamic.

I think the night went badly for Trump. We'll have several days again going over his list of lies. And the pressure on him will go up for the second debate.

Taegan Goddard:

On the substance of the debate, Clinton was the clear winner. She was controlled and methodical in making her case. Trump was constantly interrupting and spit out jumbled talking points that sounded like they came from some obscure corner of the Internet. It wasn’t even close. Clinton crushed him.

In our polarized country, both candidates probably solidified their bases. But for those still undecided or those leaning towards a third party candidate, it should be clear that Clinton is the one better prepared for this moment.

Chris Cillizza (WPost):

"Clinton was head and shoulders better than Trump...This was a clear win for her on virtually every front."

Jonathan Bernstein (Bloomberg)
"The entire 90-minute debate on Monday night was a demonstration that Donald Trump doesn't have the temperament to be president."

John Cassidy (New Yorker)
"Words matter when you run for President,” Hillary Clinton said toward the end of Monday night’s happening at Hofstra University, on Long Island. Clinton was criticizing Donald Trump for his loose language regarding America’s allies in Asia, but she could have been summing up the lopsided debate, which saw her doing virtually everything she needed to do while Trump indicted himself with his own words."

"To this viewer, at least, Trump seemed oblivious to the harm he was wreaking upon himself. Instead, he seemed almost to be revelling in it. Perhaps Trump believes that soccer moms in suburban Philadelphia and janitors in Ohio will warm to him for his ability to avoid paying taxes on what he refereed to as his “tremendous income.” Perhaps he also thinks the voters will reward him for stiffing his workers, cheating his suppliers, and reneging on his businesses debts."

Other responses:

The New York Times summary of the blow-by-blow.  Decision: Clinton.

Both CNN and Washington Post had headlines saying Clinton put Trump on the defensive.  The Guardian also: Clinton kept her cool, Trump lost his.  The Guardian panel members differed on how well Clinton did, but not on how badly Trump did--very badly, unfit for office.

Politico: subhead: Clinton hits him where it hurts, and Trump's boorish reaction hands her a win.  The story begins:There were a couple of not-so-very-subtle signals here inside of Hofstra University that Donald Trump lost Monday night’s highly-anticipated debate against Hillary Clinton, and badly.

NBC got detailed reaction from a panel of three Latino commentators.  They all praised Clinton's responses and dissed Trump.

 The Hill experts unanimous decision for Clinton.  Said one: With record viewership, I cannot imagine any undecideds still being on the fence after this debate — or how Trump can win moving forward.
Here's pretty much the consensus so far: Trump did pretty well for the first 15 to 30 minutes, then fell apart, with anger, insults, lies and incoherence.  Clinton was precise, poised and prepared, if not spectacular.  Moderator Lester Holt was so passive that Borowitz claims CNN sent out a search party. (Others thought he was admirable in letting the candidates go at it.)

The actual CNN:

Hillary Clinton was deemed the winner of Monday night's debate by 62% of voters who tuned in to watch, while just 27% said they thought Donald Trump had the better night, according to a CNN/ORC Poll of voters who watched the debate.

Update:  Now I have seen the entire debate, and can judge comments better. Scanning columns and stories for Tuesday morning papers etc., every one I've seen says that Clinton clearly won the debate, and Trump badly lost.

Some make interesting additional points.  E.J. Dionne in WPost:

"The surprise of the debate was that Clinton put before voters a new Trump to dislike. Trump has campaigned as a populist paladin of the working class. But the Trump that Clinton described was a plutocrat who walked away from debts and obligations to his own employees. She pushed the debate into an extended discussion of how Trump had become wealthy and turned what he sees as one of his central assets, his business acumen, into what could become a big liability as the campaign goes forward.

If one use of a debate for a candidate is to change the trajectory of the campaign discussion, Clinton may well have succeeded in opening a new front against Trump."

"One major encounter does not necessarily decide an election. But this one showed a Trump who was ill-prepared, disorganized, petulant and — ironically, as he became ever more flummoxed toward the end of the debate — short on stamina. Clinton’s calm dissection of her foe reassured jittery supporters and no doubt shook many voters who were considering Trump. Clinton shifted the contest her way during her party’s convention. She did it again during Monday night’s debate."

Karen Tumulty at WPost also made the point (as Dionne does) that Clinton's performance may well have closed the "enthusiasm gap" in the polls that showed more Rs enthusiastic about Trump than Ds about Clinton.  (If memory serves, this was also a worry about Obama v. Romney.  Turned out to mean nothing.)

A point that Cillizza made may turn up especially in TV analyses (which mostly I don't watch, so maybe it has already): the split screen that was present for the entire debate also made Trump look grumpy, dismissive and lost. For those actually listening, he interrupted frequently, attempted to shout over Clinton and moderator Holt.

On the other hand, Roger Cohen in the NYTimes (who generally agreed that Clinton did very well and clearly won) believed she was too wonkish at times and didn't have an authentic moment.  An example of her wonkishness was referring interested viewers to her website for policy details.

However, according to Internet stats, a lot of people evidently were interested enough to actually go to her website during the debate, and otherwise looked for information on her policies.  And as for a spontaneous moment, she said laughingly that Trump was going to blame her for everything bad that ever happened.  His rejoinder "Why not?" completely exposed his desperate cynicism.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fabulous summary.