Thursday Reads: Third Debate AftermathPosted: October 20, 2016
Hillary Clinton walked onstage last night in a gorgeous white pantsuit and then proceeded to crush Donald Trump in the third and final debate of the 2016 election season. It was obvious that someone had informed Donald that the camera would be on him when Hillary was speaking, because he struggled to control his facial expressions in the first part of the debate. But once again, Hillary successfully baited him and he quickly lost control. His handlers can spin his performance however they want. He’s toast.
Of course the top two media hot takes this morning were Trump’s refusal to say that he would accept the outcome of the election and his “such a nasty woman” comment that came while Clinton was discussing the Social Security trust fund. The real story is that Hillary Clinton gave a nearly flawless performance last night and in the previous two debates.
The third and final presidential debate has ended, and it can now be said: Hillary Clinton crushed Donald Trump in the most effective series of debate performances in modern political history.
The polling tells the story. As Nate Silver notes, on the eve of the first presidential debate, Clinton led by 1.5 points. Before the second, she was up by 5.6 points. Before the third, she was winning by 7.1 points. And now, writing after the third debate — a debate in which Trump said he would keep the nation “in suspense” about whether there would be a peaceful transition of power, bragged about not apologizing to his wife, and called Clinton “such a nasty woman” — it’s clear that Trump did himself no favors. Early polls also suggest Clinton won.
And it’s not just the presidential race. Betting markets now predict Democrats will win the Senate. Polls have started showing Democrats in striking distance of the House. The GOP has collapsed into a mid-election civil war, with the party’s presidential nominee openly battling the speaker of the House.
This is not normal. As Andrew Prokop concluded in his review of the political science evidence around presidential debates, “There’s little historical evidence that they’ve ever swung polls by more than a few percentage points.” In this case, they did. And it’s because Clinton executed a risky strategy flawlessly.The dominant narrative of this election goes something like this. Hillary Clinton is a weak candidate who is winning because she is facing a yet weaker candidate. Her unfavorables are high, her vulnerabilities are obvious, and if she were running against a Marco Rubio or a Paul Ryan, she would be getting crushed. Lucky for her, she’s running against a hot orange mess with higher unfavorables, clearer vulnerabilities, and a tape where he brags about grabbing women “by the pussy.”
There’s truth to this narrative, but it also reflects our tendency to underestimate Clinton’s political effectiveness. Trump’s meltdown wasn’t an accident. The Clinton campaign coolly analyzed his weaknesses and then sprung trap after trap to take advantage of them.
Clinton’s successful execution of this strategy has been, fittingly, the product of traits that she’s often criticized for: her caution, her overpreparation, her blandness. And her particular ability to goad Trump and blunt the effectiveness of his political style has been inextricable from her gender. The result has been a political achievement of awesome dimensions, but one that Clinton gets scarce credit for because it looks like something Trump is doing, rather than something she is doing — which is, of course, the point.
Read the rest at the Vox link above.
A few responses to Trump’s performance:
Jamie Bouie at Slate: Donald Trump vs. America.
After the first presidential debate, the Republican Party nominee called for monitoring and intimidation at polling places in cities like Philadelphia and Cleveland. During the second, Trump announced his plan to investigate Clinton using the power of the presidency, and promised to put her in jail for unnamed crimes against the state. He later turned that into a bona fide campaign slogan: “Lock her up.” For the last week, he’s decried the entire election process as “rigged”—a shadowy conspiracy meant to deny him a victory at the ballot box. And at the final presidential debate at the University of Nevada–Las Vegas, Donald Trump refused to commit to conceding the election, should he lose on Nov. 8….
Clinton called this “horrifying.” “We’ve been around for 240 years,” she said. “We’ve had free and fair elections. We’ve accepted the outcomes when we may not have liked them. And that is what must be expected of anyone standing on a debate stage during a general election.”
She’s right. In 1800, Federalist president John Adams lost to Thomas Jefferson and his Democratic-Republicans, following a painful and contentious contest. And rather than fight or challenge the results, Adams handed his rival the reins of power, the first peaceful transition of power in a democracy and a milestone in the history of the modern world. The act of conceding, in other words, is vital to the functioning of democracy. It confers legitimacy on the winner of an election, giving him or her a chance to govern. To refuse to concede, to denythat legitimacy, is to undermine our democratic foundations.
Surrogates for Trump have tried to defend his comments, citing then–Vice President Al Gore’s conduct following the 2000 election. But Gore didn’t challenge the process; he let it move forward. As ordered by state law, Florida had to do a recount. That recount was then stopped by the Supreme Court. At that point, Gore conceded the election, gracefully and without public hesitation.
In presidential elections at least, there’s simply no precedent for what Trump is promising. The slave South may have seceded from the Union following the 1860 election, but neither of Abraham Lincoln’s opponents denied his legitimacy as the duly-elected leader for the United States. It is world-historic in the worst possible way.
Bouie’s piece is a must-read.
Amy Davidson at The New Yorker: For Trump, the Election is Rigged if a “Nasty Woman” Can Win. Again, the whole thing is a must-read, but here some excerpts:
She shouldn’t be allowed to run,” Donald Trump said, of his opponent, Hillary Clinton, who was standing next to him on the debate stage in Las Vegas on Wednesday night. “It’s crooked—she’s—she’s guilty of a very, very serious crime. She should not be allowed to run. And just in that respect I say it’s rigged.” Trump’s tone was heated; to make this point, he had talked over the interjections of the moderator, Chris Wallace, and he kept on doing so, making clear how little he cares for decorum or democracy. This person—this woman—shouldn’t be allowed to contend, let alone win. Wallace’s question had been about whether Trump would accept the results of the election; Trump wouldn’t even accept the premise….
Perhaps what Trump is having trouble gauging now is how he might feel when he looks at a television on Election Day and sees the smiling face of Hillary Clinton as she is announced as the President-elect. He might react as he did when, late in the debate, she delivered a strong answer about Social Security that referred to the taxes he’s avoided paying. His features receded into a pool of curdled dust. “Such a nasty woman,” he said. In 2016, a major-party nominee for President seems to have mistaken misogyny for an argument against democratic legitimacy.
Trump’s contempt for women—and the lack of discipline it seemed to induce in him—was a leitmotif of the debate. Chris Wallace’s first question was about the kind of Supreme Court each candidate would nominate into being as President. There will be at least one opening, unless the Senate does its job and acts on the nomination of Merrick Garland, and, Wallace noted, “likely or possibly two or three appointments.” This should have been an easy one for Trump—a warmup question covered in any decent debate prep. There are voters with reservations about his character who might vote for him anyway, just to make sure that there’s no liberal in Antonin Scalia’s seat. But Trump began, and wasted a good part of his time, by rambling on about how Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had insulted him (“very, very inappropriate statements”). On reproductive rights, Clinton talked about where to get steroids because for health reasons, had to contemplate a late abortion; Trump portrayed them as incipient infanticidal brutes who, if not checked, might “rip the baby out of the womb” at the last minute. He also said that he assumed his judicial appointees would overturn Roe v. Wade. When Wallace, who controlled the situation better than any moderator so far, asked why “so many different women from so many different circumstances over so many different years” would say that Trump had groped or kissed them against their will, Trump first claimed that the stories had been “debunked” (they have not), then jumped into theories that “it was her campaign that did it,” and then let the audience know, as if it were exculpatory, that “I didn’t even apologize to my wife, who’s sitting right here, because I didn’t do anything.” And if it wasn’t a campaign plot, he said, then it was just women trying to get “their ten minutes of fame.”
Pretty good summary there. There’s more at The New Yorker link.
And then there was Trump’s defense of Vladimir Putin against the U.S. intelligence community’s clear statement that Russia is trying ot influence the election. The Washington Post: Donald Trump’s confusion and contradictions about Russia.
Trump has never accepted the Clinton campaign’s assertion that hackers controlled by the Kremlin are trying interfere in the 2016 elections, even after the Obama administration officially accused Russia.
Trump didn’t back down in the third presidential debate: “She has no idea whether it’s Russia, China, or anybody else.”
When Clinton interjected that “17 intelligence agencies” had concluded that the Kremlin is behind the cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee and other political institutions, Trump said, “Hillary, you have no idea. Our country has no idea.”
As we all know, Clinton went on to call Trump Putin’s “puppet,” and Trump’s grade-school level response was “no, you’re the puppet, you’re the puppet.”
That’s all I have for you this morning. I’m completely exhausted, because I stayed up watching the talking heads last night until they went off the air. I might have to take a nap.
What do you think were the high and low points of the debate? What are you hearing and reading this morning?