Now that we’ve had the first presidential debate of the general election, I feel like we’re entering the home stretch. Which is kind of a relief and kind of a worry. Anyone who has traced this campaign from its beginning is likely to be worn down by now. Yet Election Day, of course, will herald a new presidency and few of us seem particularly enthusiastic about either candidate. How will it feel to sit there on Election Eve, I wonder, weighing which kind of disappointment to root for?
Onto that debate: I thought about giving you my impression of it the day after, but it turns out that my assessment is pretty mild, and pretty much what I’ve heard from everyone else: Trump sort of impressed and surprised me for the first 20-or-so minutes of the debate. He kept his cool and he managed to dominate the conversation without coming across as obnoxious.
But then Trump seemed to remember himself. Hillary Clinton pushed his buttons and he responded accordingly. Again and again, Trump said things that would have been considered gaffes for previous nominees. (Such as seemingly confirming that he hasn’t paid federal income taxes by bragging that not paying them makes him smart.) It was all sort of typically difficult to take in, and I would be surprised if it attracted undecided voters to his cause. But I wouldn’t be surprised if his performance energized his base. They obviously like what they see in him and he gave them a fresh batch of it on Monday night.
Clinton was also true-to-form: knowledgeable, wonkish, a skilled debater. I imagine her performance came as a relief to her supporters, because this debate (like the election itself) was hers to lose. Trump has such a well-established, highly-divisive image that people either love him or loathe him. I can hardly begin to imagine anything that Trump could say or do at this point to push his supporters away from him or draw large numbers of undecideds towards him.
That’s not to say that Clinton doesn’t have a well-established, highly-divisive image too. Of course she does. But I think she has more control over the direction of this race. If Clinton makes blunders, her support will decrease. If she manages to come across as a solid, capable, presidential option, her support will increase.
Trump is who Trump is. Once I saw that Trump’s campaign could survive him saying, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” I knew that its future depended not so much on him, but on his opponents’ ability to corral the majority of Americans who aren’t attracted by that kind of bravado.
I do, however, think Clinton made a mistake in the debate by repeatedly calling on fact checkers to do their job. Fact checkers will do what fact checkers do. Her instructions to them only served to buttress her image as the ultimate insider, one who can direct the powers that be to do her bidding. That’s far from an asset in this race.
Given all the “post-truth” chatter I’ve been hearing and reading lately (and my own post from last week), I was kind of amused to hear a news clip of Trump telling a crowd of his supporters that the polls showed him as the winner of Monday evening’s debate. At first I couldn’t grasp what he was talking about, because the polls I’d heard of had Clinton winning the night by a wide margin. Was he just completely fabricating this result out of nowhere?
But then… ah, yes. That kind of poll. The kind a newspaper throws up on its website to get you to engage with it. Those polls are great fun, because you can cast your vote and see its impact immediately – 188,743 people have voted, and you’re in the majority! It’s so much fun to vote like that, in fact, that sometimes you feel like voting again and again, just to watch that number tick higher. Those are great polls (even if they’re nowhere near accurate).
And… that’s it. I can’t make it to seven for this week’s Quick Takes. Ah, well. Have a great weekend, all!