I did it. I stayed tuned in for the whole debate. Just like 80.9 million other Americans did. It was a test of willpower (and a pre-debate workout helped keep me awake too). Now I question why I ever did so.
I was keeping close watch to the poll numbers going into debate. I saw Trump rising like the morning sun and Hillary dropping faster than her health. Trump was gaining in battleground states and with voting blocks…even Catholics. There was talk that Hillary had already conceded Ohio and was battling for my home state of Pennsylvania, a blue stronghold since the post-Reagan era. Cruz had just endorsed Trump. Hillary’s health and whereabouts were in question. Trump had shown a new softer and less edgy personality, more presidential. He was filling his advisory roles with great conservatives, Christians and Catholics. I was leaning away from my #probablynottrump mentality. I actually thought he was going to put the nail in the coffin at the debate. I thought he was going to pull it off, or she was going to lose it, and it was clear sailing to November.
Then reality set in.
What Went Wrong?
As I sat there for the almost two hours of commercial free TV, I saw not only that the great debate never happened, but I watched Trump fall apart at the seams while keeping his cool (that was actually a historic event). It was apparent that he had very little knowledge or plans for foreign affairs and that his past baggage was weighing him down. I saw Hillary actually not scream, cough nor faint. She was energetic and well prepared. She stood tall as Trump slowed leaned to the left as the night wore on (literally). She was able to drop her baggage on the way into the university for the debate. She was poised and polished, maybe even too much. She came across us unreal and not very likable.
It was apparent that the moderator had it out for Trump from the beginning. It was a 2 on 1 the whole night. It was unfair, but Trump rose victorious from a pack of seventeen GOP candidates,, he should have been able to handle 2 on 1. But he failed. His lack of preparation showed. Not only was he unable to defend himself all that well, he was also unable to make Hillary’s past mistakes stick to her. His inability to articulate a defense or offense was his greatest weakness last night.
But What Did We Expect?
Trump was able to secure the GOP nomination by unconventionally rising above the other GOP candidates. He didn’t debate in the primaries all that well in areas of policy and politics. He shouted louder and more often than the others. He tapped into an angry GOP base and played off their emotions, not off their logical thinking. He was able to draw in angry independent voters who were fed up with either party. They all fell for his mastery of their emotions. But they failed to see that Trump was short sighted. Trump was set to win the battle but not the war. He poised himself to win the primary, but not the White House.
During the primaries, I remember Dr. Paul Kengor saying many times that Trump would be different during the general election. That he would be a gentleman to Hillary. At first, I thought the good doctor wrong, but the last month has shown him to be right. Trump was flapping his gums but not his wings at the beginning of the general election. He was trying to be himself, but it was not working with the general public. So he changed his game.
He became that gentleman Dr. Kengor talked about…well at least as gentlemanlike as Trump could. Time that with the debacles of the Clinton campaign and we saw Trump starting to rise. As I mentioned before I thought it was a turning point. But last night proved otherwise.
But should we be surprised? In the primaries if Trump couldn’t argue policy, he resorted to insults. But he cannot do that to a woman in the general election, especially with his past woman issues. Trump is now trying to win on the fence voters, not mad voters. If they have not joined the Trump train by now, they are looking for another reason to hop on board. Emotional appeals and anger are not enough when it comes to fringe voters.
During the primaries, Trump ignored Cruz’s multiple challenges to a one on one debate. At the time it made sense, everyone knew Cruz would beat him one on one. Why would Trump give him momentum? But, oh that hindsight. It would have been prep for now, for Trump has never been in a one on one debate, especially for these high of stakes. It would have given Trump the practice he so desperately needed. It would have shown the primary voters that Trump is not ready for the White House.
Just about any other GOP candidate would have crushed Hillary in a debate. Christy was a master at debate. Kasich, though not articulate, spoke to the common people. Any of the three senators, Paul, Cruz or Rubio would have articulately pointed out Hillary’s weaknesses. But Trump, unprepared and playing a game of not his own, failed to capitalize on easy win.
Trump’s second weakness of the night was not turning the tables on Hillary. They both have baggage. They both have a very low trustworthiness among the population. Hillary hit hard at Trump. And the moderator helped her do so. Trump had to create his own a attacks against Hillary, as it was obvious the tough questions were not directed to her. But, besides a quick email jab, Trump failed to bring out her baggage.
Benghazi? Never mentioned. Emails? Briefly. Clinton foundation? Silence. All three could have been easily brought up last night. And, as a Catholic and conservative, I want to hear about social issues. I know it was not in the realm of the debate. But it hardly ever is. Trump needs to bring it up.
Two points that stood out to me last night, that was easy pickings for Trump.
- Hillary said something to the effects of “every life matters” Forina, Rubio, Cruz, Bush or Kasich, the most prolife candidates in the primaries, would have capitalized on such a moment.
- During the conversation about race, how hard would it have been for the “prolife” Trump to point out that Hillary supports Planned Parenthood, which was founded by Margaret Sanger and Hillary even accepted the Margaret Sanger award a few years ago. If Hillary is not racist, then why would she support them and accept that award, for Sanger founded Planned Parenthood as a way of eugenics against African-Americans. Even today, 78% of Planned Parenthood clinics are in African-American communities.
Again, what do we expect from Trump? We knew his baggage, story and weaknesses in the primary, but voters chose to look past it. They went on emotion, not logic. Now emotion does not work.
Is All Lost?
Hard to say. In 2012 Mitt Romney decisively won the first debate hands down against President Obama, which was followed by Paul Ryan outclassing Joe Biden in the VP debate. But in the end, Obama won the next two, again with help from the moderator, and went on to win the general election. I heard it said on the radio that in the past several elections, November’s result more closely match Labor Day polls.
Will history repeat? I do not know. I do know, that this year has been a roller coaster of of an election cycle and completely unpredictable. But if camp Trump doesn’t step up its debate game, it might be over. Trump’s best strategy might be not debating and just doing what he has done the last month. If not…#hopewecanhangontill2020.