DECISION 2016: PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE EDITION
By Jackson Omondi
The first presidential debate is in the books and before we declare a winner, first let’s look at tonight’s showdown through the eyes of those who run the campaigns, the messaging consultants, the wordsmiths and the image makers who were responsible for what you saw tonight.
Let’s look at what they set out to achieve going in and then with the benefit of hindsight, gauge the candidate’s performance.
For Team Clinton, this was an opportunity to reinforce what everyone and their mother knows – Clinton’s superiority and depth on policy minutiae and experience.
And for those calling the shots on the political right, the goal was to showcase a calm, collected and more presidential Donald Trump.
But when the obligatory niceties sublimed, both campaigns saw what neither camp had prepared for.
The Clinton camp ran through hardcore mock sessions of the Lewinsky scandal renditions, Gennifer Flowers saga and many more episodes of a more reserved (read presidential) Trump. The Trump camp had a much rougher stretch dealing with a candidate who did almost nothing in the name of rehearsal but was showing signs of restraint and had adopted the campaign’s counsel of reading prepared remarks and speeches from the teleprompter.
Their hope, going in, was that the Donald was going to be the new Donald.
From a consultant’s vantage point, each point, policy proposal or talking point is designed to target a specific voting bloc. Naturally, the campaigns go for groups that their polling shows that they are struggling with, but the biggest prize during the debates are independents who make up at least 10% of the voters in a country that’s divided along partisan lines of 45% GOP and 45% Democratic.
So for perspective, both campaigns had those groups and numbers in mind.
Then the questioning started.
Current polling shows that Trump is badly trailing Clinton among women, a constituency that no Democratic presidential candidate has won in decades and no Republican presidential candidate has ever won without winning in this category. Team Trump had hoped that Trump would practice more restraint in his showdown with Clinton, but what they saw was the old Republican presidential primary Trump who interrupted and cut off his opponents in the primaries.
Legions of women watching the contest will also weigh in on the manner in which he handled his opponent. Trump’s verbiage on women will also be a topic for litigation in the public domain. Reference to “looks” and “stamina” were clear dog whistle rhetoric that left his messaging team scratching their heads.
On poise, Trump appeared to ditch his new found mien of a calm and collected guy and opted to go nuclear on a day that most Americans were expecting to see a presidential figure.
In presidential debates, sometimes, moments do matter more than words, what a candidate does can be worth more than a million dollars. Hillary’s shrug and disgust at Trump’s belabored “temperament” defense coupled with the collective laughter from the audience, was an instant fact-checking moment that rendered Trump’s explanation comical and potentially fatal. Nothing is more devastating than being considered a joke when one is really trying so hard to defend himself.
Both campaigns were hoping to reassure voters that their candidate has the knowledge and grasp of basic facts about U.S. foreign policy, economics, national security and other domestic issues.
On this one, Clinton’s attempts to explain specific policy proposals were rudely interrupted by Trump to a point where she couldn’t put a word in. And when she did, Trump’s went vintage, giving broad stump speech, boilerplate Republican ideas about cutting taxes, gun rights, less strict rules on environment and more Reaganomics but offered zero specifics on how he intends to get them done.
Reaganomics and gun lobby rights are primary campaign talking points but are hardly general election materials.
Fully aware that over 100 million registered voters were watching the debate, Clinton’s experience kicked and she sought to reassure key US allies that under her watch, the U.S. will honor her responsibilities around the world. And with this move, she bagged another voting bloc that has been elusive to the Donald: college educated voters. Most general election exit polls have shown that most college educated voters normally break for the Republican but the numbers this year are favoring the Democratic candidate.
Another moment that must have been tough to watch(for the Trump brain trust) was the african american issue and especially Trump’s explanation of his long held position that Obama was not born in the United States. Trump anchored his political career on Obama’s birth certificate issue and Hillary’s indictment and prosecution of the issue was devastating because it reminded the very voters (blacks), whose support Trump sorely needs to turn a few purple States red in order to win, that the man who was standing next to Hillary on the debate stage, began his political career on a hate platform. The 1970s discrimination case was the dagger.
Hillary’s shaky moment came when the Donald went nuclear on her and it was clear that she didn’t prepare for an aggressive and bilious Donald Trump. But she regained her footing as the debate went on. Honestly, no political strategist expected this Donald to show up, not with the current stakes and the gigantic audience. This was the time to demonstrate poise, composure, temperament and judgement to lead the free world. But the Donald gave the world a throwback.
As the night went on, Hillary’s oneliners got more crispier and devastating. And none was more powerful than the response to the attack on her stamina where she turned an attack into a strength by parading her trips (112 trips) overseas as Secretary of State and the infamous 11-hour testimony to marauding Republican congressmen out to wear out a woman just because they didn’t like her. Her approval ratings went high after that episode.
Independent voters will likely stay with Hillary since most of them go with poise, ideas and temperament.
Do you still want to know who won the DEBATE?