By Doug Porter
You really didn’t need the sound on for Monday’s Presidential debate at Hofstra University to understand what was taking place.
Donald Trump blustered. He made faces. His eyes turned into narrow slits spitting fire. And, I suppose, some of his comments were relevant to his followers.
Hillary smiled, eyes wide open. Towards the end, she even did a little victory shimmy, as her opponent once again stepped in it.
Let’s take a look around and see what others had to say.
Outside the Bubble
Cathleen Decker at the Los Angeles Times set the scene for what was to be a bad night for the Republican candidate
Donald Trump left the protective bubble of his partisans on Monday and learned a well-established truth about campaigns: The rhetoric that draws rapturous applause at rallies doesn’t play as well in the outside world.
The Trump onstage Monday was the Trump seen every day in his campaign. He used the same language, told the same stories, decried the same disasters. But he did not do what a 90-minute debate gives candidates an opportunity to do: flesh out an explanation of how he or she would run the country, and invite voters who aren’t already committed to come along for the ride.
Instead, Trump flinched under Hillary Clinton’s tough criticism.
Worse, he made off-the-cuff remarks that lent credibility to her critiques of him. He defended saying the housing crash was a good business opportunity. He said that not paying federal income taxes “makes me smart.” He insisted that not paying contractors according to their contracts was another business decision.
A Good Question
Matthew Yglesias at Vox tried to look at the debate from the perspective of a modern day Rip Van Wrinkle. He concludes:
…that’s why I think it’s useful to try to purge yourself of your existing knowledge of the campaign. If you just tuned in Monday night expecting to see two well-qualified and broadly competent candidates discussing the issues in some kind of recognizable shape, you would find yourself sorely disappointed.
The conceit of the Trump campaign is that he’s a smart, business-savvy outsider who can fix things. But he clearly has no idea how to fix things. He doesn’t even seem to have a grasp of what the problems are.
If you were just tuning in to this campaign, you would find yourself hung up on a pretty obvious question — why did the Republican Party nominate a guy who clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about? It’s a good question.
What Color Was That Dress?
David Corn at Mother Jones pondered the separate realities inhabited by each candidate’s supporters:
Prior to the debate, I had an odd moment with retired Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s top national security adviser and supporter. He was standing in the spin room in the media center. He said he had no time to chat, so I tossed him an easy and conventional question: what does Trump have to do this evening? Trump, he said, “needs to show those people not paying attention who Donald Trump is.” And who is Trump? Trump “resonates,” Flynn said, because “he comes across as a very honest guy against someone who is not honest.”
Trump as honest? Honest when he says he knows more about ISIS than the generals? Honest when he talks about….well, check out this list of recent Trump lies and whoppers. Of all the ways a surrogate can support Trump, declaring him honest is not serious. (And, yes, Clinton has told her own whoppers, but any reasonable fact-checking of this debate will find that Trump mugged the truth so much more than she did.) I didn’t quite know how to follow up Flynn’s assertion. It was as if he had said the sky is purple. Does he truly believe Trump’s top character trait is honesty? But this did bring home the point that life on Planet Trump looks quite different than life in the rest of the universe.
This election is not about which candidate has better policies or even better qualifications. It’s about how voters see the world. Is the dress white and gold or blue and black? Clinton did appear to have a better night than Trump. But it also seems that much of what’s going on in this campaign is not open to debate.
How Bad Was Trump?
Even GOP partisans had a hard time seeing the debate in a good light.
Republican pollster Frank Luntz conducted a focus group of undecided voters in Pennsylvania. Sixteen said Hillary Clinton won, versus 5 for Trump.
The Politico Caucus survey had 8 in 10 insiders in key battleground states saying Clinton performed better, including 57% of Republicans.
The Washington Post found lots of conservatives willing to say not good things about the GOP nominee. Here are my favorites:
“After the first 20 minutes, it may have been the most lopsided debate I’ve ever seen — and not because Clinton was particularly effective. But you don’t need to be good when your opponent is bad,” writes National Review’s David French, who considered running for president as an independent. “Why didn’t he have a better answer ready for the birther nonsense? Has he still not done any homework on foreign policy? I felt like I was watching the political Titanic hit the iceberg, back up, and hit it again. Just for fun…”
…From the chief strategist of Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign:
Trump brought 20 minutes of material to a 90 minute show.
— stuart stevens (@stuartpstevens) September 27, 2016
No Woman Card Needed
— NARAL (@NARAL) September 27, 2016
Best part was Trump lecturing Hillz on ‘stamina’ after she’d dominated him and kept him on the ropes for an hour https://t.co/ARg3IjVPnf
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) September 27, 2016
What’s all mean? The stock market got off to a great start this morning, and I suspect it had nothing to do with Trump’s mastery of business over politics.
At FiveThirtyEight.com polling whiz Nate Silver used past debate performances to predict a 2 to 4 point bounce for Clinton, while warning that it ain’t over ‘till it’s over.
The Happy Dance
The closing words go to David A. Graham at the Atlantic:
Historically, debates have tended to have little effect on the ultimate result of the election, and little lasting effect on polls. But this was precisely the performance Clinton had wanted. With polls showing a dead heat, Democrats have been beginning to panic, with the pitch increasing ahead of the debate, as supporters wondered whether Clinton could perform, and whether Trump would shoot himself in the foot or manage to appear presidential. It’s also tough to predict the response of voters to a debate, and while Trump performances during the GOP primary were often mediocre at best, he still scored high marks with his supporters.
But Clinton’s delight was barely hidden by the end of the night. When Trump concluded an increasingly angry spiel directed at her—”I have a winning temperament. I know how to win”—the Democrat paused for a brief moment, smiled at the camera, said, “Woo! Okay!” and did a little shimmy before answering. It was the happiest she had looked in public in the last 20 months.
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