Tuesday 27 September 2016

Presidential Debate #1: She Had One Job

….and she fucking nailed it.

This pretty much sums it up.
First, some background:  Despite Lester Holt saying that over 100 million people were expected to watch the debate, presidential debates are conducted for a small audience.  The vast majority of voters have already decided for whom they are voting.  The candidates don't need to preach to their respective choirs.  The election hinges on voters who are undecided, and the entire general election campaign is about winning them over (as well as motivating potential voters to show up on Election Day).

Since voters who could as easily vote for the Republican as the Democratic candidate are, by definition, in the middle of the political spectrum (and also, in this particular election, so clearly brain dead that someone should check for a pulse), the nominees are usually falling all over themselves to seem as moderate as possible.  They also endeavour to appear 'presidential'.  Undecided voters are more likely to be swayed by style than substance; they're going to go with their gut feeling of who appears warmer, more trustworthy, more relatable.  In short, the nominee they'd most like to have a beer with.

Is that a smart way to choose a president?  No, but it's the reality the nominees face.  In this debate, Hillary Clinton had to bury her image as cold, strident, angry, mendacious, calculating, and in the race only to sate her own lust for power.  She's been accused of sounding as hoarse and angry as Bernie Sanders, but less honest.  Her job tonight was to appear warm and good-humoured, to never rise to any bait and descend into virago.

When Trump wasn't attempting to pass off glaringly inappropriate personal anecdotes as evidence of his fitness for the job of president, he was trying to goad Clinton into shrewishness.  It didn't work.  She had her wonkish policy arsenal at her disposal, but she realised that details and pedantry were not welcome here, and the substance of angry rebuttals would be undermined by the tone.  Much like a beauty contestant, all she had to do was smile and remain cool and composed for the judges.  Again, this is not how it should be.  But if this election were less surreal, Trump wouldn't be a nominee and she'd be debating a real opponent who would have competing policy proposals to discuss.

Trump made it easy for her.  His cuts and thrusts were tired and she was well-prepared to parry them.  He came across as a lazy bully.  He'd toned down the boorish ad hominem attacks since the primaries, but he hadn't replaced them with any concrete responses to policy issues, so he reverted to his comfort zone when the moderator called him on his blustering refusal to engage with the actual questions.

Clinton was the clear winner in this debate.  I don't think we can expect anything new in the next ones; both candidates did their absolute best.  Clinton, to her credit, has demonstrated a small learning curve with her improvements in style.  Trump has shown that he has no concept of scale or forum.  His supporters are notorious for embracing his rudeness and mistaking his bluster for competence, and he has no conception that what works at his rallies, where the entire audience has a collective IQ below room temperature, does not work with the rest of the world.  His attitude is "They like me, they nominated me, so I am obviously doing something right".  The purpose of the debates is lost on him.  Given how absurdly close the race is, this election has become a referendum on stupidity.  If he wins -- if his performance last night, in which I seem to recall him mentioning Rosie O'Donnell and answering a question on how he'd promote racial healing by boasting that he'd made Obama show his birth certificate, does indeed convince a majority of voters to choose him as the next president -- then I give up on humanity.

I Tweeted throughout and the Tweet that received by far the most likes and RTs was: "Does Trump think that facial expression connotes careful listening? Because it just looks like the coke is burning his nostrils."  Stephen Colbert thought "he sounded like the coked-up best man in the bathroom at a wedding."  In contrast, "Hillary was so prepared my new nickname for her is Preparation H."  Not to be outdone, John Oliver compared scandals.  I'm pleased he shares my view that adding raisins to cookies (actually, adding raisins to anything) should be a capital offence.  Seth Meyers noted that Trump claimed to have won a poll that wasn't conducted.  That's hardly surprising, and it's all we can expect from Trump -- more of the same bullshit and blather.  The only open question, which will be answered on Nov. 9, is whether Americans are ignorant and stupid enough to elect this braggadocious blowhard leader of the free world.

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